Monday, 30th October 2017

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Chhath at Calcutta lake despite NGT order

Large-scale violation of green body’s order as policemen stand and watch

By Subhajoy Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 14.11.18, 3:14 AM
  • Updated 14.11.18, 3:14 AM
  • 2 mins read
Chhath Puja rituals being performed at Rabindra Sarobar on Tuesday afternoon in violation of the National Green Tribunal’s 2017 notification that prohibits any activity that pollutes the artificial lake ringed by a park and gardens. Bishwarup Dutta

Thousands of devotees performed Chhath Puja at Rabindra Sarobar on Tuesday with the administration seemingly an ally in the mass-scale violation of an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) prohibiting any such activity in the sprawling lake.

A police team stood at the main entrance but didn’t stop anyone walking in with a basket of offerings to make as part of Chhath rituals. Even noisy firecrackers being burst by some revellers couldn’t break their reverie.

The arrangements along the bank of the lake, including halogen lamps to illuminate the area after dusk and ladders every few metres to make stepping into the water easier, suggested that the beeline of devotees wasn’t exactly unanticipated.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), the custodian of Rabindra Sarobar, allegedly hadn’t issued any instruction to its staff to block the entrances. A security guard wearing a CMDA jacket said: “We haven’t received any instruction to stop anyone from performing puja rituals.”

A senior official said the agency had “informed” the police about the NGT’s order. “We didn’t make any arrangements (for Chhath) this year. We wrote to the police and informed them about the order.”

Ajoy Prasad, the deputy commissioner–II (headquarters), was in charge of police deployment at Rabindra Sarobar on Tuesday. Metro tried to contact him for comment but he was unavailable.

The environment department said it wasn’t responsible for enforcing the NGT’s order. “What could the environment department have done about the surge of Chhath Puja crowds at Rabindra Sarobar? It is not an enforcement agency. It is for the police to ensure that an order is adhered to in its true spirit,” said a senior official, requesting that he be not named.

Subrata Gupta, the urban development secretary, said: “I will ask the CMDA what it did to comply with the NGT’s order”.

The CMDA functions under the urban development department.

Children burst fireworks during the festivities.
Children burst fireworks during the festivities. Bishwarup Dutta
Revellers march to the beat of drums
Revellers march to the beat of drums Bishwarup Dutta
People walk past a cop posted at the gate to the lake
People walk past a cop posted at the gate to the lake Bishwarup Dutta

For most of the afternoon, a police vehicle had been parked under a board mentioning that “any puja, community picnic or organisation of other social events in and around the Rabindra Sarobar Lake” is “strictly prohibited”.

Several organisations had petitioned the tribunal on Monday to ease the restriction but the plea was not even heard.

Hordes of devotees started turning up from noon on Tuesday and walked past the police to find a place of their choice along the bank of the lake. They used strings to cordon off portions of the paved walkway along the bank.

As sunset approached, groups of men and women descended on the lake using the ladders placed against the bank. Most of the women carried pitchers with an earthen lamp on top. Cane dalas filled with fruit, flowers and other offerings floated in the water.

Nandalal Shaw, one of those who performed Chhath rituals in the lake, said nobody tried to stop him as he entered through the main entrance to Rabindra Sarobar.

Another devotee said nothing appeared unusual from any previous Chhath Puja by the lakeside. “Devotees from neighbourhoods like Kasba, Ballygunge, Dhakuria and Picnic Garden mostly come to Rabindra Sarobar. Where else would one find such a large bank? The advantage here is that you can get into the water from anywhere. Even in the Hooghly, one doesn’t get such a wide expanse of water.”

Sujit Mitra, a lawyer with expertise in environment-related cases, said the NGT could start contempt proceedings against the government for allowing its order to be flouted. “The NGT can also issue arrest warrants for these violations.”

The 192-acre Rabindra Sarobar complex includes a 73-acre spread of water and a 119-acre park.

“Apart from water pollution, the fireworks being burst filled the air with smoke,” said Arjan Basu Roy, founder of the NGO Nature Mates.

A recent bird count by Nature Mates revealed nearly 85 residential species at Rabindra Sarobar. “The birds included two trans-Himalayan migrants. I don’t know if we will see them from tomorrow,” Roy said.