The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Guns cocked ahead of fair signal

Calcutta, Jan. 13: A line-up of would-be litigants is ready to wage war if the army decides to wave Book Fair 2007 towards the Maidan.

Calcutta High Court had tossed the ball back in the army’s court yesterday by throwing out the Publishers and Booksellers Guild’s petition seeking permission to hold this year’s fair on the greens in the heart of the city.

The army cannot allow the January 31-February 11 event on the Maidan, anyway, without first getting the high court to recall two earlier orders banishing the Book Fair from the stretch starting this year.

But even if it manages to persuade the court, the Maidan’s custodian would be left facing a raft of lawsuits — from environmentalists, rival fair organisers poised to cry “discrimination”, and lawyers ready to question the force’s authority to grant such permission.

“If the court recalls the two orders, and the army changes its policy and allows the fair on the Maidan, we will again move the high court against the army,” said green activist Subhas Dutta.

Even getting the earlier court orders recalled would be difficult, said advocate Arunava Ghosh. “If the army comes to the court with a prayer for withdrawing the two earlier orders, it will face a tough legal challenge.”

The first of the two court orders was passed by a division bench of Justices Ashok Ganguli and Soumitra Sen in January 2006. They had allowed the Book Fair “one last time” on the Maidan on the strength of an assurance from the state and the army.

The second order had come in a case filed by GS Marketing, organiser of the International Mega Trade Fair, which had accused the army of discriminating against other fair organisers by making an exception for the Guild.

Justice Jayanta Biswas had asked the army not to repeat the mistake by allowing any fair on the Maidan again.

“We will raise the issue of discrimination as well as the environmental concerns before the high court,” said Dutta, who has sought an appointment with the army’s Eastern Command brass.

GS Marketing, too, is getting into battle gear. Some religious organisations forced to shift congregations from the Maidan since 2004 are also believed to be considering lawsuits.

“My client (GS Marketing) is ready with the petition…. We are waiting for the army’s decision and will move court the moment it allows the Book Fair on the Maidan,” advocate Ashok Banerjee said.

Green activists, fair organisers and lawyers have promised to work together and have floated an informal forum to save the Maidan.

The Guild said it was working with the state government to sort the matter out.

The army today repeated that it was against any “event or fair” on the Maidan, but would allow the Book Fair subject to court approval.

In a strong enough statement, army chief General Joginder Jaswant Singh had said yesterday: “We feel that it is in the interest of Calcuttans that the Maidan is spared…. The Maidan will become a desert if we allow rallies and fairs there.”

But the reality is that the force may have little choice if the state government pulls strings in Delhi.

Mindful of that possibility, advocate Supradip Roy has lined up a legal challenge to the army’s jurisdiction.

“The army is the custodian, not the owner of the greens. The real owners are the people of Calcutta and I will raise this question on behalf of Calcuttans,” he said.

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