In a major victory for green activists and a defeat for the West Bengal's communist government, the Kolkota High Court Monday refused permission to the Publishers and Booksellers' Guild to hold the 32nd Kolkata Book Fair at the Maidan grounds.
"It is the victory of the environment," green activist and Maidan crusader Subhas Dutta said as he burst into tears after the verdict.
The court ruling came as a moral blow to Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who had gone out of his way to ensure that the fair was held on the green acres in the heart of the city despite a ban on all other fairs at the venue.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice K K Prasad set aside the permission granted by the defence ministry, the custodians of the Maidan that is a vast open space of green in the centre of a cramped and teeming city.
The Guild had obtained the defence permission by wrongly claiming that it had obtained all other permissions from various authorities while it in effect obtained them after the defence ministry letter permitted the fair.
The court asked the Guild to restore the Maidan, where the organisers had begun temporary constructions for bookstalls, to its original position within seven days and hand over the place to the army.
Using strong words, the bench also dubbed the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) as "reckless" for illegally granting permission to the Guild.
"This is a victory of my long struggle of 18 years. I have been threatened by the ministers like Subhas Chakraborty. Even the chief minister singled out my name in a press conference as a self-appointed protector of environment," Dutta said.
"We are grateful to the judiciary for protecting the right of the people to live in good health," he said.
"If greenery survives it would be (thanks to) the judiciary. No book lover or pollution board came to see the condition of the Maidan after the fair where the piled up garbage used to be burnt," he said.
The court slammed the WBPCB for granting permission for the fair without any proper inquiry.
The court verdict comes at a time when delegates from various countries, including theme country Australia, are scheduled to arrive.
"We will hold a parallel book fair on the same ground same time by reading books and a symbolic inauguration," an angry litterateur Sunil Gangopadhayay said after the verdict.
"Let him do that. He is no longer a buddhijibi (intellectual), he is now a Buddha-jibi (a sycophant of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya)," petitioner and noted lawyer Arunava Ghosh said.
Uncertainty was looming over holding of the January 31-February 11 Kolkata Book Fair with the high court Thursday last halting all construction work at the Maidan.
The holding of the book fair had become a bone of contention between chief minister and the Guild on the one hand and the green lobby on the other.
The bench had directed the Guild to stop construction work after the organisers failed to satisfy the bench with the validity of the permission letter they had procured from the defence department.
The court was not satisfied with the legality of the various permissions from corporation, police, fire brigade, pollution board, public works department (PWD) obtained by the Guild.
"We could present before the court the pollution impact of the fair based on not our assessment but the impact report prepared by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) in 2001. Surprisingly the board did not prepare any report after that," Dutta told IANS.
The sports Minister had threatened to picket the homes of environmentalists whose legal crusade put a question mark on holding the fair.
"I will find the address of each and every green activist involved in this and gherao (physically surround) their houses with thousands of people," Chakraborty had said.
The court verdict came on a public interest suit filed by lawyers Arunava Ghosh and Kalyan Bandopadhayay against the holding of the fair on environmental grounds.
The petitioners had made the state government, the defence department and even Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee parties in the case.
"The permission was granted to the Guild in an unfair manner. Somnath Chatterjee had sought permission from the defence department for a private body like the guild as per media reports while other organisers were not allowed to hold any fair on the same ground for environmental reasons," petitioner Kalyan Bandopadhayay said.
"The Maidan is the lung of the city and any fair allowed would cause environmental damage," he said.