Monday, 30th October 2017

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NGT order drowns in Sarobar waters

Devotees break locks

By TT Bureau in Calcutta
  • Published 3.11.19, 2:35 AM
  • Updated 3.11.19, 2:35 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Chhath Puja devotees perform rituals at Rabindra Sarobar in Calcutta on Saturday Bishwarup Dutta and Sanat Kuma

Chhath Puja devotees broke the locks of several gates to Rabindra Sarobar and entered the park to perform rituals while police were nowhere to be seen and private security guards of Rabindra Sarobar looked helpless.

The police on its part said there was no request from the Sarobar custodians to deploy force for Chhath Puja but claimed that cops had visited the spot after they got information about a law-and-order problem at the lake.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had banned all pujas, social event and community picnic inside Sarobar in an order passed last year.

The Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), custodians of the Sarobar, decided to shut down the park between Friday midnight and Sunday noon to ensure that no one could enter the park and perform rituals in the waters.

The CMDA had built ghats in 15 water bodies in south and central Calcutta for devotees to perform Chhath rituals there.

A CMDA official said that the ban was imposed to protect the biodiversity and environmental assets of the Sarobar.

Everything changed on Saturday when a group of about 25 men broke open the lock of the gate near Lake Gardens railway tracks around 9am. CMDA officials, who were present in the park at that time, ran to the police outpost inside the park but found it locked. Calls to other police officers, who were part of the planning to seal Rabindra Sarobar, went unanswered, said a CMDA official.

The officials again locked the gate but that too was broken around 11am. Since then, revellers broke locks of one gate after another. “Locks of eight of the 18 gates of the Rabindra Sarobar were broken,” said one official.

An officer of Calcutta police said they had started two cases in connection with the Rabindra Sarobar incident and arrested 11 people on Saturday. 

Revellers enter the Sarobar after breaking a lock and a security personnel
Revellers enter the Sarobar after breaking a lock and a security personnel Bishwarup Dutta and Sanat Kuma

Sources said that one of the cases was started based on a complaint lodged by the CMDA officials for trespassing. The police have registered a second case on a suo motu basis for alleged assault on policemen who went there after getting information about people breaking locks to enter the Sarobar.

Environmentalists, however, called the arrests as eyewash.

By late afternoon and evening all rules and regulations went for a toss. Crackers were burst once in a while, some devotees broke the fencing of wood around the water body that were creating problems for the ladders they had brought to be lowered down into the water.

Several groups also brought along bands to beat drums, but Sarobar’s security personnel stopped the bands from going inside.

In at least one place a man, who identified himself as Sunil Kumar Tripathi and said “I am from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS)”, was seen manning a gate along with a few other youths. They wore a badge with the words “Swachh Rabindra Sarobar” written on it.

“We want people to celebrate Chhath at the Sarobar but after following all rules,” Tripathi said.

The broken lock
The broken lock Bishwarup Dutta and Sanat Kuma

The CMDA officials were worried about the repercussions of the violation of NGT’s order. Chief secretary Rajiva Sinha would be appearing before the NGT in New Delhi on Tuesday in a separate matter when they fear the tribunal could come down heavily on the government and as well as the CMDA.

“All this despite we trying so hard to implement the tribunal’s order,” added the official.

Several devotees said that none of the 15 new ghats made as alternatives to the Sarobar had the space for people to gather and perform rituals. “While some people perform the puja, others from the family stay behind and watch. In the other water bodies there is paucity of space,” said one devotee.

Some of the revellers told Metro that it has been a decades’ old tradition for them to perform the rituals in the Sarobar waters. “We don’t float lamps on the water and we don’t throw flowers either. Then how are we harming the environment?” asked Rajendra Rajak, a devotee.

He admitted that some in the crowd violate the rules but added that authorities should force out anyone doing so.

A CMDA official said that they had hired 72 additional security personnel for every shift for Chhath Puja to prevent a re-run of 2018, when revellers went inside the Sarobar despite the NGT’s order being in place last year too.

“Usually there are 19 security personnel in every shift. We had hired additional 72 security personnel for each shift during Chhath Puja. But our security personnel were outnumbered by the countless people who arrived,” said the official.