The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paper politics in plastic wasteland

They dig up the greens, they set up kitchens to feed the hungry marchers, they litter the Maidan. Then, they pack up and leave without paying for the damage they have done. Only to return, months later, to renew their assault on the city’s lungs.

For the Maidan, there’s no escaping the clutches of political parties. Trampled by thousands of feet, smothered by tonnes of polythene and singed by the giant earthen ovens, the city’s largest green expanse is fast turning into a wasteland.

And now, the Maidan finds itself forsaken by the politicians who are, at least on paper, meant to protect it.

There are rules to ensure its sanctity. And there are provisions to ensure that the Maidan’s users — including political parties — pay for their nuisance. But, as in so many other cases, the rules exist on paper and push the Maidan to plastic peril-point.

The rules say that the state public works department (PWD) has to levy a charge (called the ground rate) of 60 p for every sq ft occupied by a political party, every day. The PWD is also meant to charge the user 12.5 per cent of the ground rate as conservancy cost.

Besides, the department is meant to keep Rs 10,000 as security deposit. This is refundable, but the PWD can hold back the sum if it feels that the Maidan has been desecrated. But then, that’s what the rules say.

“As you can see, all the rules are in place and they are meant to protect the green,” claimed deputy commissioner (headquarters) Kuldeep Singh.

Another senior officer, however, took a slightly different — and more realistic — view of the mess on the Maidan. “Not a single political party has paid a single paisa to date before grabbing the greens for a day… I think it has become a convention not to pay and there is very little we can do about it,” he admitted.

The other set of rules — relating to the preservation of the Maidan — is no less effective, on paper. Prominent in the 22-point charter of rules are:

§the stage or dais should be dismantled immediately after a meeting

§the ground should be returned to its original condition

§no plastic containers should be left behind

§no food should be cooked (only pre-cooked food can be served)

§no refuse should be burnt.

Again, these rules are seldom followed. Any violation can land a person in prison (up to six months) and/or mean a fine of Rs 1,000. But as far as memory stretches, no one has landed in jail or been slapped with a fine, say officials.

“Who is going to haul a politician to prison'” a senior Calcutta Police officer asked.

So the elaborate save-Maidan system — starting from a party applying to the police to the survey by the Mounted Police after which it gets back its purse — is rusting, much like the towering irons that rot on the greens on the stretch opposite the Chowringhee.

Most political parties agree that something needs to be done about the Maidan. “The culture has to change,” said Trinamul Congress all-India general secretary Mukul Roy.

BJP leader Muzaffar Khan agreed. “I admit that we violate the rules,” he said.

But a senior CPM functionary stuck to the left-is-right stand: “We ensure that things are returned to the state in which we find the Maidan.”

That, again, is on paper. The reality is all plastic.

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