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Bengal asks for Maidan, Antony shy

Calcutta, Feb. 19: Bengal sports minister Subhas Chakraborty today met A.K. Antony and demanded the Maidan be handed over to the state government, but the defence minister stayed non-committal.

The army is the custodian of the Maidan, the 1,000-acre stretch of green in Calcutta’s heart where the CPM would love to hold the book fair, banished by the high court, and political rallies.

Basudev Acharya, part of a group of party MPs who accompanied Chakraborty, said: “He (Antony) promised to look into our demands but did not commit anything.”

A senior Fort William official told The Telegraph the army did not want to hand the Maidan over. “Till now, we have not received any such proposal. But these are political decisions and we have to follow as advised.”

CPM sources said Chakraborty’s move was a follow-up to a letter chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had written to Antony on August 8 “regarding the use and possessional right of Kolkata Maidan”.

During the inauguration of this year’s book fair, Bhattacharjee had rued that it had to be shifted out of the Maidan.

Chakraborty too had written a letter that, among other things, said the govern- ment wanted to close down the racecourse, an army property leased to the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, as a way of putting the Maidan to better use.

“Such a valuable place… is being used for such bogus things,’’ his letter said.

Environmentalists said the Maidan was far better off in the army’s hands.

“What the state government cannot do because of judicial intervention, it plans to do through the backdoor by taking control of the Maidan,” said Subhas Dutta, who was instrumental in getting the book fair out of the Maidan and drawing court attention to the mauling of the greens during rallies.

Political bosses in Delhi, however, are known to overrule local army decisions. In 2006, then UPA ally Left Front had pulled strings in Delhi and held the book fair on the Maidan.

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