Poush Mela regulars can breathe easy: the 125th edition of the fair — which draws thousands of visitors from all over the country and the world to Santiniketan — will be held at its traditional venue in Tagore’s university town this year as well.
The National Green Tribunal has set several pre-conditions for holding the fair, aimed at making it more environment-friendly. But Visva-Bharati officials have said they run an educational institution and not a civic agency. Vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty earlier this year admitted the university did not have the infrastructure to hold such a big fair, creating a degree of uncertainty over how and where this year’s Poush Mela would be held.
Senior Visva-Bharati officials told TOI on Monday that the Prime Minister’s Office called soon after the university’s “candid admission”. “I met PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi and explained our difficulties,” VC Chakraborty said, adding that the PM then entrusted seniors in the PMO to “assist Visva-Bharati” in planning the fair. The ball was set rolling after Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta, also a member of the university’s court, raised the issue in Parliament, following which Modi took note.
Officials said the Union HRD ministry was asked to help Visva-Bharati and the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur was given the responsibility of helping the university bring in some radical changes to this year’s fair.
Poush Mela, the annual handloom, handicraft, art and music festival, is held for four days in the Bengali month of Poush and traditionally starts on the seventh day of the month (usually end-December).
The university has drawn NGT criticism for not being able to ensure that the fair winds up after the stipulated four days and for not being able to clean up the post-fair mess satisfactorily. Chakraborty, prompted by the flak, issued a public statement earlier this year, saying the university would not hold the Poush Mela on its campus. Intellectuals from across the globe reacted, saying the Poush Mela was part of Bengal’s tradition and should not be allowed to die.
A slew of changes have been brought in this year after the PMO’s intervention. “We have restricted the number of stalls to 1,400 and all bookings will be done online. The entire payment gateway is being designed by IIT Kharagpur’s computer science department,” Chakraborty said.
Till last year, 1,260 stalls were officially allotted but the number often went up to 3,000. The fair map, too, is being re-designed by university and IIT experts together to weed out irregularities; there will be fixed stall sizes unlike in previous years.
The official rent till last year was Rs 500, which has been hiked to Rs 10,000. An additional deposit of Rs 20,000 will be taken, which will be refunded only if stalls are dismantled on time and the place is cleaned up.
Source: Times of India