Days after Visva-Bharati University (VBU) authorities decided to cancel Poush Mela at Santiniketan for the first time in its history, the Bolpur Byabsayi Samiti (traders’ association) decided to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and seek his intervention in the matter. Modi is the chancellor of the Central university.
Secretary of Bolpur Byabsayi Samiti, Sunil Singh said they will also write to President Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urging them to ensure the annual winter fair takes place.
“Livelihoods of a large number of people are associated with Poush Mela. Thousands of tourists visit Santiniketan in December. Artists and traders from across the state and especially from Birbhum district exhibit their products in this fair. Now if this fair is closed permanently, there will be a loss of annual earnings,” said Singh.
Breaking the 125-year tradition, the Executive Council (EC), the highest decision-making body of Visva-Bharati University, recently decided to scrap Poush Mela altogether with Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty claiming that the university was “ill-equipped” to handle such an event.
The annual fair, which takes place on the Visva-Bharati University campus every December, draws people from across the world. The fair is held to encourage local people of Birbhum and neighbouring districts to come, exhibit and sell their artifacts and handicraft products. The fair was first held in 1894 at the university, founded by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. At present, the fair officially lasts for three days starting from December 23 or 24 — depending on the seventh day of the Bengali month Poush.
The Shantiniketan Trust is the custodian of the annual fair as per the deed prepared by Tagore’s father Devendranath Tagore.
In a note addressing colleagues, students and other stakeholders, on July 4, Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty called the festival “nightmarish”, as “the campus of Visva-Bharati is inaccessible to those who serve the university throughout the year”.
“As per the Shantiniketan Trust Deed, which Gurudev’s father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, prepared, the trust is the true custodian of the mela, but gradually, the mela unofficially became Visva-Bharati’s responsibility for which it was woefully unequipped. As a result, a specific group with the university was vetted of organising the Mela, and in the pre-2019 years, the university authority remained a mute observer, though the ultimate responsibility rested with the university.”
The university was also pulled up by the National Green Tribunal for flouting environmental guidelines in 2017. He also explained how the university authorities put in a lot of effort to comply with the NGT rules to keep the mela afloat.
In his note, Chakrabarty said that the traders’ body refused to abide by the rules, and abused and attacked the authorities, following which cases were lodged with Birbhum police.
At present, some 1,500 stalls take part in the fair, while about 5,000 tradesmen set up shops in the open ground. According to Sunil Singh, Poush Mela generates a business worth Rs 100 crore.
“The economy of the craftsman will go for a toss. We can understand if the fair does not take place for this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But we cannot accept the fair to be closed permanently,” said Singh.
When asked to comment on this, Chakrabarty said, “The decision was taken by the Executive Council. I, as the chairman of this council, cannot violate its decision. If you have any queries then talk to our public relations officer (PRO).”
PRO Anirban Sarkar did not respond to calls on his mobile phone.
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