The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fairgrounds have become the judiciaryís latest headache. Conservationist activism has now become an established sphere for the courtsí directive action in Indian cities. The latest instance of this is the Calcutta high courtís involvement with looking after the Victoria Memorial. The court is keeping vigil over this monumentís upkeep on several fronts. First, it has directed the state government to hold no more fairs in the grounds surrounding the memorial. Second, it has asked the pollution control board to form a committee of experts that will decide how to make the memorialís immediate environment free of pollution. Third, it has to keep watch over when the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners clear the garbage they have been dumping near the memorial. Fourth, it is supervising the completion of the Archaeological Survey of Indiaís renovation work at the memorial. All four are laudable, and indeed essential, forms of activism. But it remains a shame that a judiciary having to cope with a phenomenal backlog has to add to its burden by monitoring activities which ought to be carried out by the various bodies entrusted with these duties.

The state and Central governments, the army, the police, the public works department, the PCB, the HRBC and the ASI are all institutions which ought to discharge their duties without regular pullings-up by the courts. The fact that frequent and massive fairs could harm the memorial in various irreparable ways, that garbage ought to be cleared regularly, that the cityís greens should be properly maintained and the air kept as pure as possible are aspects of civic awareness which should be nurtured and sustained within any civilized urban society without excessive policing by the courts. Lamentably, profound civic callousness, coupled with pervasive politicization of every conceivable municipal activity, has ensured that both the state and civil society remain sublimely unaware of the dangers of such collective irresponsibility. Neither the citizens, nor the political parties which claim to represent them democratically, seem at all concerned about the fate of say, the Dhakuria Lakes or pedestrian safety (Operation Sunshine). Whence this culture of being policed into action by the judiciary which could cripple the functioning of civil society and encumber the working of the courts in many harmful ways. It is, indeed, an excellent idea to be concerned about the Victoria Memorial, and to move all fairs from its vicinity to somewhere by the Eastern Bypass. But the high court should not have to waste too much of its time teaching Calcuttans or the government how to feel or implement such concerns.

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