Sept. 10: The alleged assault this evening on law students trying to prevent the eviction of people from Subhas Sarobar for a "beautification drive" spoke of a zeal that contrasted sharply with the reluctance to remove illegal settlers from a nearby Metro project site not too long ago.
The construction of a 365-metre viaduct of the East-West Metro had been delayed by four years because 80 families refused to vacate the site at Duttabad, just over a kilometre from Subhas Sarovar. The impasse dragged on, but the administration would neither remove nor reason with them.
At Subhas Sarobar, two earthmovers moved in today to demolish hutments along the lake in a show of urgency that has been missing when it comes to removing hurdles in the way of several infrastructure projects in the city.
Contractor Gammon withdrew from the East-West Metro project after being fed up with the delay in removing settlers from the Duttabad site. Afcons, another company involved in the project, moved Calcutta High Court to highlight financial losses because land at another site had not been made available.
At Subhas Sarobar, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), which is the custodian of the lake and the surrounding areas, has taken up a beautification project linked to the Fifa U-17 World Cup at Salt Lake stadium. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said she wants the event to be "a spectacle".
"The way you celebrate Puja, we must also ensure that the World Cup turns into a spectacle," she had told a gathering of Puja organisers on August 23.
Puja organisers have been asked to dismantle hoardings and pandals by October 5, three days before the Calcutta leg of the competition starts.
The CMDA is laying walkways along Subhas Sarobar, cleaning the neglected portions, and clearing and illuminatingthe areas that were inaccessible so far. The agency is also converting the northeastern section into a parking lot with a capacity for 1,000 vehicles.
The beautification plan requires some families living on the Subhas Sarobar premises to move out. Students of the nearby West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) had approached Calcutta High Court opposing eviction of these settlers without the administration arranging their rehabilitation.
The court stayed the eviction, saying "the interim order will remain valid for a period of two weeks after expiry of Puja vacation or until further order, whichever is earlier".
The court also asked the petitioners and those who were to be evicted not to "disturb" the CMDA while constructing a boundary wall.
A lawyer who had filed the plea on behalf of the students said they would cite contempt of court in a fresh petition.
A student of NUJS said the six students who were allegedly assaulted had been the first to reach Subhas Sarobar on hearing about attempts to forcibly evict the settlers. They had gone there armed with the court's interim order. "The girls in the group were threatened with rape. Their clothes were torn. They were pushed and shoved. One of the boys was about to be attacked with a stone. They beat up the boys with bamboo poles," said a student.
When the students tried to video record the eviction, their mobile phones were allegedly snatched and smashed. One of the students made a distress call to a friend who was on the campus.
He and some other students went to Phoolbagan police station asking for their friends to be rescued. "The cops refused to help, saying they would need an order from the higher authorities," the student said.
The same students who had stood up for those living along the Sarobar and even gone to court against the CMDA today requested Metro not to name them lest they be targeted. They said people who could violate a court order could "go to any extent and target us".
It wasn't clear who were the men and women who allegedly assaulted the students. Several local residents identified the group as supporters of Pabitra Biswas, councillor of Ward 33.
Biswas is said to be leading the drive to "beautify" the area ahead of the U-17 World Cup. Salt Lake stadium will be hosting 10 matches, including the final.
Mayor Sovan Chatterjee claimed he did not know of what happened this evening until Metro contacted him. "I am hearing about the attack on the students from you. I will try to find out what has happened," he said.
As news of the attack spread, the assembly of students at Subhas Sarobar grew larger. The attackers had fled by then.
The assaulted students went to the police station, who asked them to visit the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Beleghata for a medical examination.
Doctors at the hospital told them they did not have any facility to treat wounds.
The assaulted students next went to a private hospital in Kankurgachhi. Two of their friends who were still waiting at the police station informed the officers about it, but they insisted on medical reports from a government hospital.
The students had to visit NRS Medical College and Hospital to get a medical examination done. A lawyer said what the police did was illegal.
Acting registrar Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan, who accompanied the students to the police station later, declined to comment.
Debasmita Das, deputy commissioner of police (east), visited Phoolbagan police station later and spoke to the students. A student said the DC promised the "strictest action" against the accused."