The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maidan rally, anyone'
- Pranab opens door, but no commerce

Calcutta/Sainthia, Dec. 29: As workers toiled to fill sand into the 250 holes at Brigade Parade Grounds left behind by barricades set up for yesterday’s rally, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee announced an “open-door” policy for “anyone” intending to hold public meetings on the Maidan.

“We will allow public meetings on the Maidan not only by political parties but also by NGOs and any other private organisation,” Mukherjee said. “But we will not allow Brigade Parade Grounds to be used for any commercial activity, like fairs.”

Earlier, Mukherjee had said political parties of all hues would be permitted to hold rallies at the Brigade. Today, he became more generous.

Mukherjee added that anyone holding a public meeting at the Brigade would have to clear the mess that would be created or else the caution fee of Rs 20,000 would be forfeited.

But, today, as the agency appointed by the coordination committee of state government employees who celebrated their silver jubilee at the Brigade on Wednesday went about its work of “cleaning” the ground, it became apparent that its workers might be doing more harm than good.

After clearing the junk littered across the sprawling ground, the workers started filling the craters with loose soil. But this was not enough to fill the gaping holes. So, bags full of sand were brought out, and under the watchful eyes of armymen supervising the operation, it was dumped into the holes.

“You don’t need a scientist or a technical person to tell you what this means for the Maidan,” said Girija Shankar Giri, the joint director of the Indian Botanical Garden.

“If you try to make up the loss of soil with sand, it changes the character of the soil and affects its fertility. The growth of grass in the areas where the soil is mixed with sand will be patchy and not rich and lush as it should be.”

On January 8, when the CPM holds its rally on the same ground, once again the same area will be dug up, except on a much bigger scale, and the holes possibly filled up the same way.

“My guess is that the places where sand is being used to fill up the holes will remain bare,” said Sankar Ray of Globe Nursery. “Only Mexican grass grows on sandy soil, but this has to be planted and nurtured very carefully. Judging by the concern being displayed by the authorities, I doubt that such a thing is going to happen.”

Mohammed Jumrati of Modern Decorators, which is handling Operation Clean-up, said they had filled up craters left behind by previous rallies as well. “While overseeing our work, one of the army officers tripped on an old hole and asked us to fill it up,” Jumrati said.

“We used sand to fill up several such holes which have been there for sometime now.”

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