Lots at stake,little to show or spend on Bihar’s ‘ground zero’

None of the dozen or so CCTV cameras works,Patna’s 200-year-old Gandhi Maidan.

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna | Published: November 12, 2013 3:37:48 am

The October 27 rally here could prove to be one of the decisive points of the election battle. It is also the biggest rally venue of Bihar and the site of many a historic meeting. At the moment,though,it is hard to see any of that.

Patna’s sprawling 20 lakh-sq foot,200-year-old Gandhi Maidan,which can accommodate over six lakh people,has no maintenance budget and just two watchmen to take care of its security. None of the dozen or so CCTV cameras works. The revenue department that pockets revenue from its allotment is not authorised to spend a paisa on its upkeep. It depends on district contingency funds for its cleaning on occasions such as Independence Day and Republic Day. Patna Municipal Corporation,which is supposed to clean it,sends its employees intermittently,mostly at the request of the district administration. Even the security deposit of Rs 5,000 that is taken from event organisers as contingency in case they do not return the ground in the same condition cannot be spent on it.

Only the Gandhi Smarak inside the ground,including a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi,is looked after by the building construction department. Organisers are not even held accountable for the holes they leave on the ground by pitching tents. At least some of the bombs that went off ahead of Narendra Modi’s Hunkar Rally at Gandhi Maidan on October 27 were placed in these holes.

In fact,people here do not remember the ground’s six iron gates ever having been locked,and the ground sealed,like they were following the serial blasts. Nine live bombs were recovered from the ground later. The police headquarters is barely 200 m away.

The CPI(M-L)’s ‘Khabardar Rally’ scheduled at Gandhi Maidan days later was shifted at the last moment.

An additional district magistrate said two watchmen each,deputed by the revenue department,work in three shifts to keep an eye on the ground. These are apart from four gardeners.

The revenue department keeps the security deposit and the money collected for allotment of the ground (Rs 20,000 per day for a political or religious rally). Though Revenue Minister Ramai Ram could not be contacted,a senior officer of the department said cleaning up the ground was the responsibility of Patna Municipal Corporation. “The district revenue department can seek contingency funds to clean up Gandhi Maidan only during special occasions,” said the official.

PMC commissioner Kuldip Narayan was not available for comment. A corporation official admitted that while as per provision,“no holding tax can be paid to PMC for Gandhi Maidan”,“it is true that adequate PMC employees are not made available for its upkeep”. A proposal by the revenue department for Rs 8.58 crore annually for the ground has been pending with the department since 2012.

Patna district magistrate N Sravana said they had taken the atack seriously. “We are sending a ground security and upkeep plan to the government.”

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