July 09, 2020
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Whither Rabi Babu's Noble savagery?

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Whither Rabi Babu's Noble savagery?
The West Bengal intelligentsia is seething. Its honourable members contend that Rabindranath Tagore is an icon and Viswa Bharati—the university created by him in Shantiniketan, Bolpur, in 1921—is his hallowed ground. They say the uncontrolled construction of ugly buildings and amusement parks to attract tourists is destroying the beauty and harmony of the university town. Mahashweta Devi, Shankha Chaudhuri, Suchitra Mitra, Ganesh Pyne and Jogen Chaudhuri have appealed to the President, the PM and the Union HRD minister to intervene immediately and honour the government’s commitment in Parliament in 1951 to preserve and protect Tagore’s unique creation. A group of eminent personalities, associated with Viswa Bharati, have even filed a PIL in the Calcutta division court. A second PIL has been filed by the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, an environment protection group, against the activities of the Sriniketan Shantiniketan Development Agency (SSDA), a government body. A third PIL is to be filed by the Phuldanga Residents Welfare Association against the desecration of a 300-year-old, 17.7-acre water body called Lahabandh. All three PILs are expected to be heard by a bench presided over by Calcutta High Court chief justice A.K. Mathur.

The plaintiffs’ ire is directed at the SSDA, which, they allege, has violated the spirit of the university town by leveraging traditional Viswa Bharati festivals like Basanta Utsav and Paus Mela to attract tourists. They also accuse the SSDA of handing over large tracts of agricultural land belonging to the Viswa Bharati to promoters for constructing residential buildings and tourist complexes. Somnath Chatterjee, the CPI(M) MP from Bolpur and SSDA chairman, refutes these allegations. "It was a free-for-all at Shantiniketan before the SSDA was created. We’ve framed building rules and stopped unplanned growth."

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