Catering equipment on the greens of botanic garden after the wedding feast on Sunday. (Gopal Senapati)
Indian Botanic Garden, the richest repository of tree species in Southeast Asia, was reduced to a wedding ground on Sunday with food being illegally cooked in the open and invitees lunching — and littering — under lawn umbrellas.
Sumantra Bagchi, a real-estate player with alleged CPM contacts, hosted his wedding reception on the greens adjacent to the cafeteria across the main gate of the 273-acre campus allegedly without official permission.
Officials, however, failed to explain why nobody stopped the wedding feast attended by 1,000-1,200 people who came armed with invitation cards that acted as gate passes. “Entry is free for bearers of this card,” said the invite, a copy of which is with Metro.
Security officer R.N. Pandey claimed that his team didn’t stop the guests because it was “normal” for the cafeteria to host large groups of people during the winter months.
By why did they waive the entry fee of Rs 10 for holders of the card? “I have no idea about any marriage reception or guests gaining entry without paying the fee,” said Pandey.
Cafeteria owner Sukhdeb Ghosh claimed that Bagchi had ordered around 250 plates of food for a “small picnic”, though witnesses confirmed that the wedding reception was far from a small event.
Food was illegally cooked outside the cafeteria in three gas ovens and a makeshift chullah. The buffet was laid out under decorated shades with a makeshift seating arena of colourful umbrellas.
The host, said to be a CPM supporter with “strong connections”, denied flouting any rule. But he declined to say who had given permission to hold his wedding reception in a protected green space like the botanic gardens, also home to the 250-year-old Great Banyan Tree.
Joint director G.S. Giri, who was summoned to Calcutta High Court in 2008 in a case pertaining to 100 full-grown trees being felled at the botanic gardens, said he wasn’t aware of any such event being held. “I will order a probe and take necessary action if it is found to be true,” he told Metro.
Environment activist Subhash Dutta, who had initiated the felling case, said he was “aghast” when he heard about a wedding feast being held in the last remaining oasis of green in Howrah.“I am told that vehicles were also illegally allowed to be parked inside. To damage the greens of the largest and oldest botanical gardens in Southeast Asia in this manner is criminal. I will lodge a complaint,” he added.
A guest admitted that he drove inside the botanic garden by showing the invitation card at the gate.
Apart from Bagchi’s guests, around 5,000 visitors entered the garden on Sunday. Morning walkers Srimoyee Dasgupta and Mitali Ghosh saw food being cooked in the open around 7.30am.
“This is such a nice place to take a stroll. We have even formed a morning walkers’ association. It’s a pity that people are being allowed to host parties here,” said Srimoyee.