At the very outset, let me clarify that I am not an environmentalist. Neither am I affiliated to any political party, though I am likely to get branded as a Maoist after writing this article. I am just an average twenty-year-old who has grown up in Calcutta and learnt to love the city and the state. Thus, my curiosity propels me to question the numerous anomalies that I notice around me. At this point of time, I think it is also of significance to mention that I’ve been working with an NGO of considerable repute, which strives to provide a better life to underprivileged children. This organization works hand-in-hand with the Kolkata police.
That said, here’s what happened on the 5th of June, World Environment Day: a concept which has never been too popular in India. Nevertheless, since Mamata Banerjee took oath as Chief Minister of West Bengal, she has promised to make Calcutta the equivalent of London, and Darjeeling the equivalent of Switzerland. This means just like the West, it is now imperative for the state to celebrate World Environment Day. As long as it is truly benefitting the environment and the people, I see no reason to complain.
I was told to report to the Gariahat Police Station at 7.30 a.m. to help my NGO with a rally in support of the environment. Since we work for child rights, I immediately asked why we were doing something unrelated to our work. I was told that we were doing this in support of the police since they support us for our cause. Therefore, I arrived at the venue on time only to be greeted by a cop sitting languidly amidst a bunch of street children. By the time our bus started moving, it was 8:45 a.m.
Due to the incompetency of one of the policemen, we reached the wrong destination and waited for around 45 minutes until someone realized that this wasn’t Harish Mukherji Park, where the rally was supposed to start from. Needless to say, the rally had left by the time we reached. The same ‘bright’ policemen now had the idea of making the bus somehow catch up with the rally. By the time we reached our next destination, Rabindra Sadan, the rally had ended and people had already dispersed.
We waited to enter the auditorium where an event was going to happen. Everyone was given free t-shirts with the government’s name and various sorts of captions. Most people who got these were illiterate and had turned up only because they had been promised free food. The plastic covers of the t-shirts were haphazardly thrown on the ground as people lined up to get inside the auditorium.
As Tagore played in the background (the state had to flaunt our culture, right?), hundreds of people took their seats for the special programme that the state government had organized. The dignitaries included the Commissioner of Police, the Minister of Commerce and Industries, Mr. Partha Chatterjee, the Minister of Sports, Mr. Madan Mitra, and the likes. Due to the late arrival of Mr. Chatterjee, the audience were made to wait endlessly. Meanwhile, the host ranted on about the environment.
In the midst of such high end drama, I couldn’t help but notice the huge flex in the background with the government’s proclamation of aid to the environment taking up half of it, while Mamata Banerjee’s face covered the rest. What ‘splendid’ use of resources to commemorate the occasion! Also, on stage, were a group of colour co-ordinated (white, blue and green) women who were present to sing and entertain the audience. As if the recorded Rabindra Sangeet hadn’t already quenched my thirst for music on a day which almost hit 40 degree Celsius while the humidity was more than 80 percent.
It was at this point of time that I felt I had had enough trash for a lifetime and decided to leave the auditorium. I have always avoided emotional TV serials, so clearly there wasn’t any need for me to subject myself to something a hundred times worse. As I walked outside, I noticed how the entire area was full of plastic packets, food packets, and disposable glasses.
Too tired to really care about anything else in the world, I hailed a cab and started moving towards my house. But apparently, the show was yet to go on. As I sat in the cab which was as stationary as the leaves on the trees, I noticed a truck which had been covered with flexes on all sides. They all said the same thing, ‘Save the Environment – An Initiative by the Government of West Bengal’.
And on the truck was a tree. Yes, that’s right, a tree. And then I noticed the second truck. And the third. In their effort to promote the environment, the government had put a tree on a truck and was making it go all around the city. Screw the rising price of diesel and the emissions they were producing. The West Bengal government might have a debt of 2,00,000 crore but they can afford it as long as the public are left in awe of a moving tree. They don’t mind polluting the air as well.
As I finally reached home and rushed towards the comforts of my room, I couldn’t help but spare a thought at the amount of resources which had been wasted for putting up this show. Right from printing flexes with our honorary Chief Minister’s face on it, to providing free t-shirts, caps, identity tags and food.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not an environmentalist and nor do I have a hidden political agenda. Out of all the happenings of the day, I was most disturbed by the fact that I had to wake up at 7 a.m. for something as nonsensical as this. But by the end of it, I was left with another thought.
For the past one year, the newly-elected Trinamool government have been trying to eliminate all traces of red and make West Bengal a green state. From banning Marx in schools to asking people not to marry into families with CPI(M) members, and even changing the name of the state, they have gone out of their way to provide the state with an identity which is completely different from the one which we have had for the three and a half decades which preceded that. However, on the occasion of World Environment Day, the city of Calcutta was filled with various colours. And green definitely wasn’t one of them.
Photographs by Rajdip Ray
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