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Since 1st March, 1999
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Ban the rallies and stop the fairs, give our lungs a breather
Take your pick: How do you want your Maidan to look'

The lungs of the city are choking — on people, plastic and petrol fumes.

Waking up to the triple threat posed to the city-centre greens by congregations of various kinds, the growing menace of littering and the rising count of vehicular traffic in the area, the army has called for Mission Maidan, before it becomes Mission Impossible.

Responding to, and agreeing with, a petition filed by environment activist Subhas Dutta in March 2003 to save the Maidan, the guardians of the greens have highlighted the problems and scripted some suggestions.

In an affidavit submitted to the Calcutta High Court Green Bench on Monday, Colonel Debabrata Kumar Purohit states: “It should be noted that the present degraded state of the Maidan and Brigade Parade Ground is on account of a large number of political rallies, religious functions, fairs and melas, sports activities and movement of increased vehicular traffic on the Calcutta Maidan….

“Therefore, there is a need, firstly, to reduce such activities and secondly, to ensure that the Maidan is restored to its original state by the concerned organisation/agency when permitted to organise any such activity. The security deposit made by such organisation/agency with the PWD should only be refunded after the state PWD is satisfied with the cleanness of the ground.”

The “clean-the-mess-before-you-leave-the-Maidan” point came up during a tripartite meeting, held on May 9 at chief secretary S.N. Roy’s office in Writers’ Buildings, attended by Brigadier M. Khajuria, commandant, Calcutta Sub-Area, Eastern Command, Fort William, and deputy commissioner of police (detective department) Somen Mitra.

It was something on which both the police and the army had agreed. But that’s about as far as their partnership on the Maidan goes.

The army affidavit all but blames the police for its failure to maintain the Maidan — “Permission to do these activities (rallies, fairs...) is given by the commissioner of police. As a matter of policy, all such permissions are subject to the no-objection certificates by the local military authority, on behalf of the ministry of defence, government of India. But the same has not been followed in totality.”

The Eastern Command representative has even called for a shift of rallies and the like from the Maidan to beyond the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. “A realistic approach and restoration of Calcutta Maidan to its green health and admirable condition is possible only if the events, functions/rallies are reduced and focus is shifted to the new infrastructures under construction by the state government in the Salt Lake area,” stated the affidavit.

The police, in an affidavit filed before the green bench on Friday, calls for the Maidan to be turned into a plastic-free zone by ensuring “that the organisers of various fairs, melas/religious discourses” do not “leave behind plastic containers, etc, on the Maidan”.

The police affidavit states that “while granting permission for the holding of various political meetings, the condition is endorsed that the land should be restored to its original condition after the meeting is over”.

Citing the example of the Calcutta Book Fair, the police affidavit says: “While granting permission for holding Book Fair, conditions are imposed for maintaining cleanness of the ground and prevention of leaving plastic bags, containers on the Maidan turf… The security money deposited with the PWD is released only when the ground is restored to its original condition after the end of the fair.”

The police have countered many of the points raised by petitioner Dutta, whose list of what plagues the Maidan includes indiscriminate felling of trees on the Maidan; plastic and littering; no drainage leading to stagnant pools of water, no maintenance and anti-social activities after dark.

The police affidavit claims that the cops “encourage plantation of trees and beautification of the available area”. They also claim to have served notices on “all clubs on Calcutta Maidan to maintain cleanness” and insist that “no damage to this stretch of greenery has taken place”.

The case concerning the mess on the Maidan — which, according to army records was thrown open to “the general public” in 1854 — comes up before the Green Bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J.K. Biswas, on Friday, July 4.

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