The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Clarion call to spare the wall
LAW, WHAT LAW' A wall graffiti in the Taltala area, in central Calcutta, hails the seventh Left Front government. Picture by Amit Datta

The writing is on the wall, and neither the arts nor industry likes what it says.

The Left Front, flush from its victory in the Assembly elections, has decided to repeal the West Bengal Prevention of Property Defacement Act, 1976 , and then paint the town red.

'If the walls of private houses can be defaced with impunity, why should Writers' Buildings be spared' demanded artist Jogen Chowdhury.

With the CPM enjoying such superiority in numbers in the Assembly, tabling the bill to repeal the Act could be a mere formality. 'But this is a sad decision. People paint their houses at their own expense and posters will be pasted on these or graffiti will be scribbled on the walls,' said Chowdhury.

Aesthetic concerns were uppermost on the mind of Ramananda Bandopadhyay, who is on the urban arts commission to be set up by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

'This election was an eye-opener. It demonstrated how an election can be held successfully without dirtying walls. If public opinion were sought it would be clear that most people are against posters and graffiti. This decision is meant to further the interests of a handful of people,' alleged Bandopadhyay.

For once, the aesthetic and the industrial circles spoke in one voice. 'If this comes through, it will be a retrograde step. It will be extremely counterproductive' Calcutta has been quite a clean city for some time now. If the government repeals the law without alternative guidelines, Calcutta's ugly syndrome is going to show its face again,' warned Nazeeb Arif, secretary-general, Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

An official with a ringside view of the state's progress in information technology (IT) was equally scathing: 'This is ridiculous' If a city has to be marketed as a business destination on the fast track, this is exactly what one shouldn't do. A lot depends on perception. If the walls in Sector V are covered with political propaganda and posters, potential investors may even shy away.'

If the industry is worried about showcasing a city plastered with political propaganda to the international business community, mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya is not. Referring to the 1976 Act as 'baseless and unscientific', he said at Writers' Buildings on Tuesday: 'All political parties in Bengal are responsible enough and will not deface walls at random. If the owners of private properties are willing to offer their walls for graffiti, then why not'

But going by what members of the House Owners' Association had to say, owners of private properties are hardly happy to hand over their walls. They feel repealing the Act would infringe on the basic right to their property and trigger turf battles among parties.

Sukumar Rakshit of the association said a movement would be launched and a writ petition filed in the high court against the defacement move.

'Does Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have the right to infringe on another person's personal property' demanded Samir Ghosh of the Calcutta Metropolitan House Owners' Association, vowing to take the matter to court.

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