| The Brigade on the eve of the rally. Picture by Aranya Sen
Calcutta, Dec. 27: Seventy workers took a day and a half to dig about 250 holes, each at least two feet deep and six inches in diameter, at Brigade Parade Grounds.
At the end of the exercise this evening, this portion of the Maidan was pockmarked with craters with poles waiting in piles to be thrust into them to put up barricades.
All this preparation is for a rally organised by the coordination committee, the CPM-backed state government employees’ organisation which is celebrating its golden jubilee, to be held tomorrow between 2 and 4 pm.
“In the long run, plundering a ground like this can have very adverse effects,” said Girija Shankar Giri, joint director of the Indian Botanical Garden. “The authorities concerned should be very careful about what they do, so that the harm that is being caused is not irreversible.”
Yesterday, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said the Brigade would be used for rallies by political parties of all hues. Today, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee iterated that “michchils and parades” would share space there.
“This is a democracy,” Bhattacharjee said. “We need space for our programmes. Even the Brigade is sometimes not enough for us. If we can’t hold our meetings here, then where should we go' The Shahid Minar'”
Bhattacharjee added: “If the whole of the Maidan becomes out of bounds for us, where will the army hold its parade rehearsals' Where will the police conduct its practice march'”
This same chief minister had announced a few days ago from the Maidan that fairs would not be allowed there from next year. It is not clear why fairs would be banned ' presumably because they destroy the greens ' but rallies ' which have the same effect ' would be permitted.
Similarly, while political parties cannot be denied the right to hold rallies, no one ' and that includes the chief minister ' has given an answer to the question what political, or public, purpose the coordination committee is serving by holding its silver jubilee celebrations at the Brigade.
If tomorrow some other employees’ organisation wants to hold a rally, how will the army or the chief minister react' Can they reject the demand' If so, on what ground'
Senior army officials here, unhappy that lakhs of people would troop to the ground for rallies, said marches cannot be held unless the ground is level. “With so many holes all over the ground, it would be extremely difficult to carry out a full-fledged exercise without seriously injuring oneself,” an official said.
The army had tried to stop the rally, but had to withdraw after orders from the defence minister.
Besides the barricades and the dais, two urinals are being set up where over a lakh of people are expected to relieve themselves. “The Maidan will be a filthy and unhealthy place to be in tomorrow evening,” said environmentalist Subhash Dutta.
“I have observed this every time a rally is held here. Even today I went to inspect the place and found that it has turned into a nightmare.”
State PWD minister Amar Chowdhury is resigned to this. “If people in large numbers descend on a particular spot, there is bound to be a mess,” he said. “The mess created by tomorrow’s rally will be nothing compared to what will happen on January 8, when the CPM holds its rally. But we have to try and clean up the place after the rally is over.”
Dutta said the clean-up by political parties at the end of a rally is never enough. “It is mainly cosmetic in nature and partly aimed at keeping the media happy.”