The Bengal government’s appeal coincided with state advocate general Kishore Dutta urging the court to relieve him from the four-member committee appointed by the HC to look into all disputes after violence broke out at the university over the construction of a boundary wall on August 17. On Monday, the university authorities started fencing off the Pous Mela ground again claiming it had nod from the HC panel, prompting the state to move an urgent appeal in the HC seeking a stay.
The court proceedings on Tuesday witnessed some strong observations from chief justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan, who along with justice Shampa Sarkar heard the appeal. Responding to the state’s argument that the move to fence the Mela ground has led locals to write hundreds of emails to the Birbhum district administration, including police, opposing the move and there could be “breach of peace over construction of the permanent fencing”, the chief justice said irate public cannot be above the law. Adding that the police have a role in maintaining law and order, the CJ said, “if they are unable to perform their role, we will do it. If need be we will face the bullets”.
On VB’s reasoning that the National Green Tribunal had in November 2017 directed the construction of a fence around the Pous Mela ground, the chief justice said that the high court had the power to review the green bench order. “The thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore and Santiniketan’s history is also important. Pous Mela also has a history, Visva Bharati cannot stop it whenever it wants,” he said.
Additional advocate general Abhratosh Majumdar and state advocate Arka Kumar Nag told the HC that the NGT’s fencing order was issued following an undertaking by VB that it will make Pous Mela into a “self-contained unit separate from the University and the locality”. For almost three years VB made no attempt to fence the ground but this July it informed the district administration that it will not hold Pous Mela from December 2020. Thereafter, the NGT on August 19 revised its original fencing order and said whether or not a Pous Mela is held, a solid waste management plant and a sewage treatment plant will have to built there within a year to address environmental concerns. The Bengal government argued that this aspect of the NGT order was not explained to the HC-appointed committee, which on September 27 allowed the university to construct a permanent fencing around the Pous Mela Ground and verbally directed the Birbhum administration to help the university.
The state told that court that adequate safety and environmental measures can be taken by putting up a temporary barricade during Pous Mela instead of a permanent fence. The HC in its order said that the committee’s first interim report should be provided to the state, the university and amicus curiae and it will hear the case again on Wednesday.
At Santiniketan, even as fencing work continued for the second day on Tuesday, a Visva Bharati official said, “Everything is being done as per Santiniketan’s tradition, rule of law and the advice by the HC-appointed committee. We hope good sense will prevail.” About 500 metres from the university gate, some people sat on dharna in front of the Bolpur market. “We did not get police permission for a protest meeting near Visva Bharati campus. Hence this protest. It will continue,” Subrata Bhakat, an official of Bolpur Byabsayi Samiti said.