The battle for the book fair scripted a courtroom drama on Friday, with a battery of lawyers fighting over the proposed venue of the fair’s 32nd edition, scheduled between January 31 and February 11.
Tradition and culture were pitted against environmental pollution and its impact, as the Publishers and Booksellers Guild’s public interest litigation (PIL) to hold Book Fair 2007 on the Maidan came up for hearing before the division bench of Chief Justice V. S. Sirpurkar and Justice A. K. Mitra.
But before the court delivers its verdict on the matter, a number of issues will have to be resolved, given the history of flip-flop over the fair.
The division bench has asked the local army authorities, as custodians of the Maidan, to file an affidavit explaining their change of stand with regard to holding fairs on the precious patch of green.
Be it rallies or fairs, the army has always had reservations on events that maul the Maidan. Now, it must explain why it has agreed to make an exception for Book Fair 2007.
The men in uniform will also have to state their policy on allowing political parties and other organisations to hold rallies and fairs on the Maidan. The affidavit will have to be submitted by January 10, when the matter comes up for hearing.
As the legal tangle over the book fair venue has become an annual affair in the high court since 2004, the state government also finds itself in the line of fire.
“In 2006, you had decided and undertook before the court that you were allowing the Guild to hold the fair on the Maidan for the last time. Accordingly, the court had passed an order. Now, how can the same court recall its own order'” asked the chief justice.
While the local army authorities redirect questions on the U-turn on the Maidan to the ministry of defence in Delhi, the state government has a different strategy to justify the shifting goalposts.
“The book fair has become the biggest social and cultural event in the city… Like Durga puja, people celebrate the event every year,” said state advocate-general Balai Ray.
Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, representing an association of booklovers, joined the chorus and requested the court to retain the Maidan as the venue.
Addressing concerns over the book fair’s environmental impact, the Guild’s lawyer pledged that care would be taken to minimise pollution at the venue.
But Subhash Dutta, who had first brought the mauling of the Maidan to centrestage in 2002, challenged the Guild’s petition and urged the court to make him a party to the case.
Arunava Ghosh also joined Dutta and moved another PIL contesting the Guild’s plea.