| ALL THIS WAS OURS: Siddiquee
Calcutta, July 3: A.N. Siddiquee believes he could have done a better job than the central and state governments of keeping the Maidan clean and green. And he might be right.
Coming from someone who lives with a family of eight in a few hundred square feet at 7A Abdul Halim Lane, the claim could sound like talk bigger than the Maidan. But Siddiquee feels he is better qualified than anyone else to talk about the sorry plight of the Maidan. His ancestors used to own a large chunk of it.
Siddiquee, who finds it difficult to reconcile the past of a family owning over 2,555 bighas (much of it a part of the Maidan) with the refrigeration business that provides his present livelihood, is now preparing to fight a legal battle.
He is not thirsting for money but for “recognition” of his family’s contribution in giving over all the land to the then British government against a (territorial political) pension. But he would have been happier, he admits, if the government first puts a stop to the violation of the Maidan’s sanctity by politicians, bridge-building agencies and plastic-spewing picnickers.
“The Maidan’s problems lie in its being public property which, here and now, has come to mean property that can be used and defiled by everyone,” Siddiquee, who has followed the Calcutta High Court-provoked interest in the Maidan’s health, says.
A public interest litigation has been filed in the court to protect the Maidan from depredations by political rallies and sundry other destructive activities.
“If it were still private property — like it was in the 18th century — I can safely claim that it would have been maintained better,” he adds.
Nawab Ali Vardi Khan made Siddiquee’s ancestors the gift of 2,555 bighas, a part of it then known as Balihati and Basanti mouzas and now the Maidan and adjoining areas, to help maintain the Sitapur Madarsa in Hooghly that the family ran.
But a few years later, a dispute arose between the family (brothers Maulana Amsauddin and Maulana Masiuddin) and Raja Tez Chand of Burdwan over possession. It was then — in 1772 — that the family decided to hand over the land to the British government (the Maidan area included), government records (Tour Notes of the assistant director for public instruction for Muhammadan Education, 1913) say.
Then governor Cartier gave a daily allowance of Rs 4 and 8 annas to the family, which was later raised to a daily allowance of about Rs 5 and a monthly allowance of Rs 152 by Warren Hastings. In 1913, the monthly allowance stood — after a revision — at Rs 158, 13 annas and 6 paise.
After the conversion of the currency to the decimal system, the figure was calculated at Rs 158.84 and Siddiquee’s father, Maulvi Abu Barkat, received a monthly pension of Rs 159 till his death in 1999. Before that, however, Barkat had filed a suit in Calcutta High Court demanding that the monthly pension be raised to Rs 1,20,000, given the devaluation of the rupee, and saw it being turned down.
Siddiquee now wants to begin where his father left off. “I don’t want the money… what can Rs 159 do for me'” he asks.
Apart from recognition for the family, he wants the Maidan to be restored to its former glory. “Why can’t it be kept like the green belts of cities in foreign (and more civilised) lands'”
Siddiquee, showing his visiting card (N.P. Refrigeration), says he is now essentially the refrigerator man. But the past keeps coming back — even on the visiting card, which ends with the inscription “RV”.
“It stands for Raj Vaban (Bhavan is the more used spelling), which has come up on land owned by my ancestors,” he explains, with an embarrassed grin.