The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fair fiddle as babies die in crib
- Politicians ambush army

Politicians are now compelled to consider ecological issues around them. If we don’t act now, nature will take its revenge

So spoke Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Saturday, less than 24 hours after he and other politicians set the stage for invading the Maidan.

Overriding objections from the army, the defence ministry has decided not to oppose the 2007 Book Fair on the Maidan, which was prohibited by Calcutta High Court on environment grounds.

“I have told them (the Bengal government) that there is a stay order from the high court. So they have to approach the high court. If the court is prepared to accept the state government’s plea, we will not oppose it,” defence minister A.K. Antony told The Telegraph in New Delhi.

When the state government moves the high court for permission to hold the fair on the Maidan, the army — the custodian of the greens — is expected to be asked to place its view. “We will say we have no objection,” Antony said.

The decision was taken by Pranab Mukherjee before he vacated the berth for Antony and moved on to the foreign ministry. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had spoken to Mukherjee, activating an almost frame-by-frame replay of events last year when the ministry gave clearance “one last time”.

In the negotiations leading up to the political decision, the army had pointed out that the fair season lasts from October to March. If the Book Fair is given permission, others too could stake claim, making it an open season on the city’s lungs.

Fort William, which on Thursday had ruled out giving a no-objection certificate, reacted with dismay. “How can the army join hands with the government and the Booksellers and Publishers’ Guild and be party to the court case' If we wanted to allow the fair, we would have said so in the beginning itself,” an official said.

Environment activists lashed out at the political interference. “How can the chief minister pull political strings for the clearance' This is gross misuse of power,” environment activist Subhas Dutta said.

“I’ll pray before the court that an environment impact assessment be conducted by a central agency and the report be placed before the court. The largest book fair in the city is conducted in the most primitive conditions without any thought for sanitation or pollution,” he said.

Such issues were very much on the chief minister’s lips, too. Addressing a seminar on elephants on Saturday, Bhattacharjee laid bare his green concerns and warned of nature’s “revenge” on offenders.

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