The venue, MCC school ground, is near a cramped junction
With 48 hours left for the Chief Minister’s mass contact programme, the district authorities and police are worried about the unpredictability of conducting a high-profile welfare event at a school ground located at a cramped junction in the city.
A huge white tent covers the skyline of the Malabar Christian College (MCC) school playground, where the Kozhikode edition of the mass contact programme will be held on Saturday.
Inside the tent, which officials call a “shamiana,” all is in order. Iron barricades have been erected to divide the crowds into batches. Ceiling fans will provide the crowd respite from the heat. Kerala Water Authority will supply potable water, which will be boiled and distributed to the waiting public. Officials say free tea will be given to the crowd. There will be stalls by the district collectorate, three taluks and the district supply office. A small group of policemen occupy the improvised entrances of the school ground.
But outside, the ground is flanked by narrow roads with a heavy flow of traffic. Shops, office buildings, and private residences exist cheek-by-jowl with the college and schools. On a normal day, children and commuters spill on to the roads due to lack of walking space or footpaths.
“Last year, the programme was conducted on the same ground. But there was a hartal on that day,” an official at the school ground said.
District Collector C.A. Latha voices concern about the possibility of a space crunch on November 16, but assures in the same breath that all is well. “Preparations started two months ago. Fresh petitioners need to come only by 1 p.m. to avoid overcrowding at the venue from morning onwards,” she said on Wednesday. The government had spent about Rs.5 lakh on the arrangements for the programme, she added.
Mayor A.K. Premajam agrees that the venue is in a congested area. “There are narrow roads on every side. There is no space and it will be difficult on a working day,” she said, adding that the Kozhikode Corporation has no role in the programme.
City Police Commissioner G. Sparjan Kumar said 2,000 police personnel would be deployed at the venue. There would be a major road traffic diversion, starting from Mananchira to West Nadakkavu.
“It is a vulnerable spot. There are so many roads. The recent attack on the Chief Minister needs to be taken into consideration,” he said.
Other probable spots in the city such as Sarovaram ground and Vikram Maidan were not found suitable as they would become waterlogged in case of rain, he said.
But for the MCC school authorities, worries are of a different kind.
“For two weeks, the ground has been taken over for the arrangements of the programme. Our football coaching classes on the ground have been suspended. Police personnel will be using our classrooms from Friday. We hope there will not be any damage to the school building. We have limited financial back-up. Our schools work on Saturday, but this week we have been asked to remain closed,” a school official said on condition of anonymity.
The District Collector said over 10,000 petitions were received at the district collectorate, taluk offices and Akshaya centres. “The complaints received were sorted out and passed on to the departments concerned. Of the petitions received, 3,000 sought medical help and 4,000 were regarding BPL cards. Many were settled and only those involving legal issues will require the Chief Minister’s attention,” she said, adding that time slots would be given to complaints to avoid rush.
The district administration has sought Rs.5 crore from the State government to resolve petitions seeking financial help from the disaster fund.