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Kolkata Korner

I knew I was right about my assessment that Kolkatans would panic, over-react and retreat into a shell if any calamity befalls the city. On Tuesday night, an e-mail warning of serial blasts in various parts of the city sent Kolkata into a tizzy...

Kolkata Korner
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Singur Singe
There's a lot to be said against the manner in which the state government had acquired land for the Tata Motors plant at Singur. It was high-handed, unilateral, duplicitous and grossly unfair. The state had resorted to lies and falsehoods and had even deployed CPI(M) goons to silence opposition to the acquisition. The landowners haven't got a good deal at all and their interests ought to be safeguarded. But having said that, one must realise that convincing Ratan Tata to set up his dream car project in Bengal was no mean achievement and that this major investment will bring in a lot of benefits to Bengal and its people in the long run. 

This one project will act as a harbinger of more prestigious investments in a host of sectors and go a long way towards generating employment for the lakhs of jobless in the state and turning the moribund economy of Bengal around. Hence, the daily assaults and attacks on the plant and people working there unleashed by a band of landlosers under the banner of the Trinamool Congress is a dangerous trend. 

Already, the Tata Motors chief has issued a dire warning, hinting that the company could well pull out if such attacks continue. If that happens, Bengal and people of the state can kiss goodbye to progress for the next few decades at least. There is an urgent need to make Mamata Banerjee understand the implications of the actions of her lieutenants at Singur; she perhaps blesses their insidious actions due to her blind and compulsive opposition to the CPI(M), but she may end up causing irreparable and even irreversible damage to the state, its people and its economy.

Futile Demands
The protestors at Singur are the ones who still haven't been able to come to terms with the forcible acquisition of their land. And they want their land (some 400 of the 997-odd acres), which is being developed for the plant now, back. They argue that the remaining land (597 acres) would be enough for the factory. This is not only an illogical demand, but also a futile one.

The entire character of the farmlands at Singur where the Tata Motors plant is coming up has changed irrevocably. The land has been filled up, its level raised, permanent structures and roads, drains etc have come up. Even if the farmers get back the 400 acres they're demanding, what use would their plots be to them? They can never cultivate anything on their plots. They'll be left with useless pieces of land. 

And the 400 acres is not a contiguous swathe of land, but scattered plots all over the plant site, that can be decommissioned and handed back to the original owners. Any person of even average intelligence will realise this. So why are the protestors, and the politicians backing them, not realizing the pointlessness of their demand? 

It's inconceivable that this eludes the protestors; so the only logical explanation is that they're continuing their protests in the hope of eventually extracting more from the government. And for the sake of the project and the future of the state, it is high time the state government invites the protestors and hold talks directly with them to make them see reason and perhaps offers a better compensation package to them. 

Dealing with the protestors directly will also serve to cut Mamata and her party out. And that'll be a good thing, for the Trinamool is definitely a more dangerous entity (for Bengal and its people) than the CPI(M). Friday's invitation for talks to these protestors by the industries minister is a welcome move.

Blind Opposition
As for the Trinamool, it hardly needs to be stated that the party's stand on Singur, like its position on many other issues, is driven by blind opposition to everything the CPI(M) and the state government does or doesn't do. None can accuse Mamata and her band of followers of being responsible and mature. Reacting to the industries minister's invitation for talks, Mamata shot off that talks could be held only after the protestors' land is returned. That there would be nothing to talk about if that demand is met is something that eluded the lady. Given this situation, there is no alternative before the government other than cracking down on the protestors and their disruptive activities. 

For too long these protestors and their Trinamool sponsors have been allowed to get away with grossly illegal acts like trying to break down the plant's boundary wall, sneak into the plant to steal materials, threaten the plant's workers and, as happened last week, even brutally assault an engineer at the site. Disconcerting reports on Maoists trying to fish in these troubled waters have also surfaced. What's more, the Trinamool leader at Singur lauded the assault on the engineer and warned of more such assaults on those working at the site. This is nothing but violating the law and shouldn't be tolerated at all. 

The next time these protestors indulge in violence, they should be arrested and slapped with serious charges. And the Trinamool leaders who instigate them or lead the assaults ought to be charged with graver crimes so that all these trouble-makers remain behind bars for a long time to come, at least till we all get to ride our Nanos.

Cowardly Act
When the serial blasts rocked Mumbai or when that city went under water, its residents bounced back in no time and life went on as usual. The spirit of Mumbaikars earned them a lot of kudos and was written about extensively. Some prominent Kolkatans, I recall, felt that too much credit was being given to Mumbai's residents and argued that human spirit always triumphs over adversities. I doubted them, but kept my doubts to myself then. 

Earlier this week, I knew I was right about my assessment that Kolkatans would panic, over-react and retreat into a shell if any calamity befalls the city. On Tuesday night, an e-mail warning of serial blasts in various parts of the city sent Kolkata into a tizzy and brought thousand of cops out onto the streets. By late evening, the police had tracked the e-mail to a cyber safe in Salt Lake, arrested the mailer and issued the all-clear signal. It was evident to all that it was a hoax. 

But despite that, many Kolkatans preferred to avoid crowded places like bazaars, shopping malls, cinema halls, railway stations, the metro rail and all other such 'vulnerable' places the next day. Many Kolkatans were quoted saying they didn't venture out of fear and avoided busy and crowded places. Kolkata will surely collapse if any disaster were to happen here. And not the least because, going by reports in all the newspapers, the police here are so ill-prepared to handle any disaster. But all said and done, Kolkatans, mostly a laid-back lot, would jump at the first opportunity to stay away from work and bomb scares, even false ones, are good enough to take a day off.

Misplaced Zeal
Alarmed over the recent blasts in some parts of the country, the Kolkata Police isn't taking any chances. And in their enthusiasm to prevent terrorists from planting bombs at crowded locales, our men in uniform have banned bicycles from many parts of the city. Bicyclists, the cops have warned, would be fined and may even be hauled into police stations for interrogation. The reason: at some places, like Hyderabad and Jaipur, the bombs that went off were kept in bicycles. This ban on bicycles is downright ridiculous. Since car bombs are also common, would our cops ban cars? And what about human bombs? Would the Kolkata Police ban humans from crowding at places since any person could be carrying a bomb? Would sale of pressure cookers or lunchboxes (used to keep bombs at Varanasi and Mumbai respectively) also be banned from the city? The imposition of this ban speaks volumes about the intelligence, or the dismal lack of it, of senior bureaucrats and police officers who are behind this bicycle ban.

Evil Eye On Maidan
Self-proclaimed book lovers and those faux, Left-leaning 'intellectuals' haven't stopped eyeing the Maidan for their annual jamboree—the Book Fair—where more 'phuchkas' (gol-gappas or pani-puris) than books are sold. The state government, definitely at the behest of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (another blessed soul with claims to literary inclinations), is said to be trying to persuade the defence ministry to grant permission for holding the annual ritual at the Maidan. So far, the defence ministry hasn't been persuaded and there aren't any indications either that it'll grant Bhattacharjee and his band of intellectual pretenders their wish. 

But one never knows and if, in future, the Left returns to a dominant role in New Delhi, the Maidan could be up for the spoilers once again. It is thus necessary to take the Maidan out of reckoning as a venue for the book fair and end this recurring dispute once and for all. This could be done by the defence ministry issuing a notification that, henceforth, no event would ever be allowed at the Maidan. Bengal's' intellectuals would be free to mount a legal challenge to this notification, but one can say for sure that no court will ever allow Kolkata's lungs to be degraded by a book (or phuchka?) fair. 

What's confounding is why the organizers of this fair, and those who back them, can't let go of the Maidan. They've persistently, and illogically, refused to consider alternate venues for the fair, insisting that the Maidan is the best place to hold the fair and that the huge pollution it causes is not a matter of significant concern. I've spoken to many of these people to find out why they're so fixated on the Maidan. None, unfortunately, could come up with any cogent reason to back their stand that the Maidan is the best venue for the book fair. All they had to say was that since the fair has always been held at the Maidan, save for the past two years, it ought to be held at the same venue for eternity. Now, that's hardly an argument. 

And it leads me to conclude that these people are afraid of change and want to maintain the status quo. This, incidentally, is the case with not only this particular issue, but many other things in Kolkata and Bengal as well. The opposition to change, arising mainly out of the 'we-are-the-best' attitude of many people in Bengal, is one of the principal hurdles in the state's path to progress.

Park Street
My worst fears haven't come true, at least as yet. Those rogue hawkers are still being kept away from Park Street and the Mayor, who had once endorsed hawkers' right to ply their trade on all pavements of the city, has so far held on to his position that Park Street is sacrosanct. The hawkers and their leaders aren't amused and have been piling pressure to mess up the only street in the city whose pavements offer an unhindered stroll. 

And here too, as in the case of the Maidan, one never knows when they'll succeed in getting the tacit nod from the municipal bosses or the city police to swarm back to Park Street. It is, thus, necessary to tackle this problem at its roots. These hawkers set up stall, mainly food stalls, on Park Street only because there were takers for that food. These are mainly lower and middle-level employees of small private firms that have offices in buildings on or in the vicinity of Park Street. If these people don't troop out of their offices every afternoon for the greasy, bacteria-infested, unhealthy foods they feast on, there wouldn't be any hawkers either. 

The good souls involved in Park Street's restoration ought to get the owners/top bosses of all these private establishments to a meeting and urge them to resolve to do their bit for maintaining the sanctity of Park Street by keeping it free of those pestilential hawkers. And the way to do that would be to issue a strict fiat to their respective employees to stop patronizing the hawkers. All those who devour the unhealthy and poisonous foods dished out by these hawkers should be asked to bring their own lunch from home. There would then be no business for the hawkers and everyone would be healthier as well. As for the inalienable right of people to have street food, that could be suspended for eternity.
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