Cannot construct walls on your own: Calcutta High Court tells Visva-Bharati

West Bengal BJP Mahila Morcha President Agnimitra Paul inspects the entrance of Poush Mela which was allegedly vandalized by a mob amid their protest against the construction of a wall around the mela ground by Visva-Bharati University, at Santiniketan in Birbhum district, Friday, Aug 28, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Calcutta High Court has ordered that the Visva-Bharati University can undertake construction activity to secure its boundaries only on the advice of a four-member committee that was appointed by the judges.

“There shall be no construction activity or demolition, modification or removal of any structures in any part of the land belonging to Visva-Bharati or over which it has claims, except with the permission of the Committee,” Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Shampa Sarkar said in their order on Friday.

The committee will include Justices Sanjib Banerjee (chairman) and Arijit Banerjee, and the Advocate-General and the Additional Solicitor-General of West Bengal.

The order has effectively clipped the wings of the Visva-Bharati authorities, who have been constructing high walls of late to secure the university’s perimeter, in spite of objections by ashramites — elderly residents who have had a long association with the university — who contended that the walls not only cut them off from their alma mater but also tampered with the aesthetics of the campus. According to them, trees and hedges had served as boundaries all these decades, in keeping with the tastes of founder Rabindranath Tagore.

Also read: Violence erupts in Visva Bharati, Jagdeep Dhankar dials Mamata Banerjee

While the university authorities had been able to ignore the sentiments of the ashramites and carry on building walls, trouble erupted when they sought to secure the legendary Bhuban Danga ground, a popular venue for fairs and festivals. On August 17, when a wall began to be constructed around it, a mob consisting of locals went on a rampage. It was the violence that brought into spotlight the construction of walls going on elsewhere in the midst of a pandemic.

“The State Government officials and the Central Government officials, in particular Revenue Officers, will abide by such direction as may be issued by the Committee from time to time to identify the properties of Visva-Bharati. Such identification shall be done by the Revenue Officers under the guidance of the Committee, on war footing; and, barbed wire fencing shall be put up by Visva-Bharati under the control and advice of the Committee to properly secure the land of Visva-Bharati. It will be within the authority of the Committee to issue such directions and advisories to the officials of Visva-Bharati as may be found necessary, including as regards whether any passage or passages are to be provided for any place in the area concerned,” the court said.

“The State police authorities are hereby directed to keep suspended any police action with regard to the complaints arising out of the incident which occurred on August 17. The police authorities will, however, keep close vigil over the university campus and in the area in general to ensure that law and order is maintained,” it said.

“This order will not stand in the way of Visva-Bharati carrying forward the developmental activities, without abridging the directions already issued hereinabove or the advisories, instructions and directions as may be issued by the Committee,” the order further said.

The court was acting on a petition filed by lawyer Rama Prasad Sarkar, but decided to hear the matter as a suo moto public interest litigation.

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Printable version | Nov 1, 2020 12:07:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/cannot-construct-walls-on-your-own-calcutta-high-court-tells-visva-bharati/article32647926.ece

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