The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rights lost in graffiti raj
- Six months after Assembly poll battle was won or lost, walls still bear the scars

More than six months have passed since Calcutta hosted its last electoral battle — the Assembly polls — but political messages still find pride of place on walls around town, from Behala to Bagbazar.

This, despite the existence of an anti-defacement act, under which wall writing is a cognisable offence.

But no one has heard of any penal action being taken against the offenders, as there have been no complaints.

“There is no point complaining, as everyone knows that walls are the property of political parties. Going to police is meaningless as they are helpless,” said a resident of 85, Raidanga Road, in Kasba.

The middle-aged man is a voter in high-profile Jadavpur constituency and his front wall still screams, Vote for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Besides bearing signs of the Assembly elections 2006, the walls in the area are full of political messages, scripted by DYFI, Citu and SFI activists.

“Allowing graffiti on our walls is the small price we pay for a peaceful life,” said a resident of Goldpark, in Kasba.

Fear of a backlash from political parties is so palpable that as many as 70 per cent respondents in an opinion poll conducted by The Telegraph feel they have little option but to “request” or “discuss with” parties to spare their walls.

Fending off any fresh onslaught on the wall with folded hands is fine, but messages on some walls date back to the 2004 Lok Sabha and 2005 municipal elections.

“During the Assembly elections, we had to whitewash walls with political messages. But post-election, it is the responsibility of the local civic body to clean up the walls,” said Debasish Sen, chief electoral officer of the state.

With the state government all set to replace the anti-defacement act with a toothless piece of legislation to legalise political graffiti, the responsibility of protecting walls from writing will rest on the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya has already said he will oppose putting the responsibility on the CMC.

Though the individuals are scared to protest collective political might, two associations of landlords are determined to stage a fight.

“We will launch an agitation against the proposed legislation, including moving the court,” asserted Amar Mitra, president of All Calcutta House Owners Association.

According to him, over 5,000 members of the association will launch a “city-wide agitation” against the bill. They will also meet municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya with the plea to withdraw the new legislation.

“It will be very insulting and unfair for the house-owner if his wall is defaced despite his opposition,” said Samir Ghosh, secretary, Calcutta Metropolitan House Owners’ Association.

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