Book bazaar out, rights in - Court says what the so-called guardians of the city won’t

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By OUR LEGAL REPORTER in Calcutta
  • Published 28.01.08
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Calcutta, Jan. 28: Calcuttans have a fundamental right to lead a pollution-free life and move around without being hemmed in by state-sponsored traffic snarls.

The forgotten — and frequently trampled — rights of a city were reaffirmed today by Calcutta High Court that threw the Book Fair out of Park Circus Maidan.

Bereft of a venue on the eve of the inauguration, the organisers have “called off” the fair “as of now”.

But the court ruling today goes far beyond a book fair: it has given Calcuttans a charter of everyday rights. The judgment means daily travails the government now dismisses as part and parcel of urban life can be termed violations of fundamental rights.

A division bench of Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose held that the provisions of Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution would have been violated had the fair been held on Park Circus Maidan.

Article 21 deals with protection of life which, elaborated upon, would mean right to live in a congenial atmosphere. “Article 21 guarantees the right to life. It means you are entitled to live in a pollution-free environment. The fair would have caused tremendous pollution in the area and the fundamental right of the local people would have been violated,” lawyer Kallol Basu explained.

Article 14, which deals with equality before law, was also invoked because freedom of movement would have been affected by traffic restrictions and consequent chaos in Park Circus. Traffic disruption there would have sent ripples across the city and crippled several educational institutions.

“Equality before law here means the right of people to move freely. The fair would have restricted the movement of people and violated that fundamental right,” another lawyer, Sardar Amjad Ali, said.

The bench set aside all clearances issued by the state and its agencies to the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to hold the fair on Park Circus Maidan.

“The permissions issued by the state government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation to the guild are against the Environmental Protection Act, Noise (Regulation and Control) Rules and Air (Prevention and Control) Act,” the bench said.

The judgment was also based on the first-hand experience of Chief Justice Nijjar, who visited Park Circus Maidan and the surrounding areas on January 26.

“Had the fair been held here, the entire area would have been badly affected by traffic snarls and air and noise pollution,” said Kalyan Saha, the secretary of the Darga Road Citizens’ Committee.

The committee and Voice of People — newly formed organisations of residents — had filed petitions contending that the fair would create chaos.

Stunned by the court order, the guild, which was last year forced to change the venue from Maidan in the heart of the city, “called” off this year’s fair. “The fair, as of now, seems impossible and we have decided to call it off,” said guild secretary Tridib Chatterjee.

Salt Lake Stadium, last year’s venue, and Netaji Indoor Stadium were considered but did not find favour. Fingers burnt badly twice, the guild has started to speak of a permanent fair site — something other big cities have opted for.

The US — the theme country — will shift its programmes scheduled for the fair to the American Center.

The court has done its duty but not politicians who have formed a book-lovers’ club that straddles ideological barriers. CPM leader Shyamal Chakraborty reacted with derision, asking: “Do they (the people opposed to the venue) want the Book Fair to be held in the Sunderbans?”

Mamata Banerjee, herself a poet, said the fair should be held at Park Circus “at least this year”, considering the “sentiments of lakhs of book-lovers”. But she criticised the government for not setting up a permanent fair venue.