| Kids from Tantia High School hit the greens. The Burrabazar school has no grounds for the children to play in, so teachers escort the kids in batches — like this bunch of primary section tots — for a regular romp. Picture by Aranya Sen
§The dream scenario: A Maidan minus fairs and rallies
§The first step: Confining fairs to a designated corner of the Maidan and “localising damage”
§The dream scenario: A Maidan as lush green as it used to be
§The first step: Tree plantation, starting Tuesday
Waking up to the need to save the Maidan before it is too late, a joint venture hits the greens at 10 am on Tuesday. The first seeds of “a massive plantation programme and awareness run” will be sown on Outram Road, beside the Territorial Army Institute.
The go-green initiative on the Maidan is a partnership involving its de jure owner of 230 years (the army), its caretaker (the state public works department, or PWD) and the agencies concerned (the state environment department, forest department and the World Wide Fund for Nature, or WWF).
Plantation is, of course, just part of the save-and-beautify Maidan plan. The more fundamental problem lies in tackling the periodic fair-and-rally ravage of the greens. A proposed way out — confining fairs to the stretch of the Maidan from opposite Rabindra Sadan to opposite Birla Planetarium.
“Until the fairs are permanently shifted out, that site is least damaging, as it has little green, and is clearly demarcated from the rest of the Maidan,” says Brigadier Mastinder Singh, officer in–charge (eco cell), Eastern Command. The Command has already sent a proposal to the ministry of defence to ensure that “all profits accrued from such exhibitions be rolled back to the cause of saving Maidan,” adds Brigadier Singh.
Convincing the high-profile fairs to toe the ‘green’ line will be quite a task. “There is no way we can shift back to the stretch opposite Rabindra Sadan, as it is too small for us,” counters a spokesperson for the Calcutta Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild, organisers of the Book Fair.
Also, there is no question of handing over profits to help preserve the Maidan, “as we do not make any profit from the fair”, he adds, while asserting that permission for the 2004 Fair had already been granted and so there was no question of an immediate change of address.
So, tree plantation seems a much smoother bet to save at least some stretches of the Maidan and involving schoolchildren to spread awareness a simpler task.
“Tuesday’s plantation programme will be part of our annual banmahotsav week programme, but the scale will be much larger this time round,” says Brigadier Singh, adding that about 100 kids will be on hand to give the Maidan campaign legs.
Lt Col. (retd) S.R. Banerjee, state director of the WWF, the bridge between the army and the civil stakeholders, identifies “vacant spots on both sides of Red Road, Ronald Ross Sarani, Kidderpore Road, Outram Road, opposite Victoria Memorial and adjacent to the fencing of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, as the plantation sites”. The forest department will supply the saplings (jarul, gulmohor, raintree, ashoke, jacaranda and neem) free.
In another move to clean the Maidan, the Pollution Control Board(PCB)-PWD duo is “working out the modalities of making it plastic-free”. The PCB has already declared 10 heritage spots in and around the city “plastic carrybag-free”. Extending the same to the Maidan would face the twin troubles of awareness and implementation.
The onus to keep the Maidan plastic-free will be on the PWD, which does not have the infrastructure to monitor the vast expanse of the green.
And then, of course, there is the lack of political will and popular support that makes a mess of the Maidan. As Hirak Ghosh, chairman, PCB, sums up: “We need a collective effort from Calcuttans to save their Maidan.”