The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A city with a wasteland at its heart would not have much to boast about. If the gradual destruction of the Maidan continues at its present ever-accelerating pace, however, that is exactly what Calcutta will be. The guardians of this once-pristine stretch of green have suddenly woken up to reality, but it is yet to be seen whether they are in time to change it. It is the “ultimate authority” of the Maidan, the army, which feels stirred up, calling for a Mission Maidan before it is too late. But the supervisory control and management of the area is under the city police, while the public works department is supposed to levy a charge for anyone using any part of the Maidan for rallies or fairs, and to ensure that the ground is cleaned up before the occupying party leaves it. There are numerous rules about cleanliness and permission, there is an abundance of authorities to safeguard the green, but nothing works. A suicidal callousness ensures that nothing that is healthy and beautiful in the city should be kept that way.

It is easy to pass the buck and say that the Maidan belongs to the army, and is supposed to be looked after by the police. But surely the Maidan belongs to its users. At first it is easy to identify political parties who organize rallies, sports clubs who have their own club areas and canteens, and organizers of fairs and melas. But this list is in a way misleading, because the real users are the people, especially the people of Calcutta. It is a unique characteristic of the Calcuttan that he should foul the space he uses most — the cosy piles of stinking garbage before the front doors of houses is evidence of the fact. The vats, in most such cases, are just a few yards away. Common space is nobody’s space, whether it be the road or the green; the idea is to use it, for rallies or games or relaxation, and to leave behind all the physical detritus of that transient pleasure in the form of waste, ranging from the plastic to the organic.

But this, obviously, is not the whole story. The leaders of the people of West Bengal, whether part of the elected government or not, have shown a callousness befitting the people they lead. Political rallies and meetings leave the green devastated, with no one penalized or even called to account. Builders, engaged in a frenzy of constructing “infrastructural facilities” around the Maidan, blithely pile their materials on its green, and are quite oblivious to the metal waste they leave behind. Organizers of fairs do not think they have anything to worry about after the events are over, the leaders of the people have shown the way. And the enforcers of the rules live in blissful forgetfulness, looking after the Maidan is no one’s duty. Callousness and the lack of accountability go hand in hand with ignorant short-sightedness. Killing off the Maidan would mean strangling a vital source of fresh air for the city. Administrators looking concerned about congestion and pollution have been too busy to focus on the obvious spot for too long a time. Promises about tightening the rules and following them will achieve nothing unless the mission to save the Maidan is taken seriously at all levels.

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