Giving a go-by to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directive that Rabindra Sarobar lake, a national water body, cannot be littered, a group of people today forcibly entered inside the lake after breaking open the gates and performed Chhath Puja while the police stood as silent spectators. The National Green Tribunal in a directive to the West Bengal government on 14 October had directed it to ensure that there is no violation of its 2017 order banning any ritual for Chhath Puja or other festivals in the Rabindra Sarobar lake.

The rules were flouted amid cop inaction and banners put up by KMDA were torn down by the crowd. The mayhem started at around 8.30 this morning when a group of local youths came and broke the locks of two gates of the lake complex. While the private security guards could do little to stop them, no police officers were seen anywhere. The morning walkers and environmentalists got into a heated argument with the people who refused to abide by the rules citing the reason that they have been performing their rituals for a long time and the alternative waterbodies selected by the administration were not clean enough to perform pujas.

“We have been performing Chhath Puja here for a long time and we will not go anywhere else. The other ponds that have been selected as alternative places are dirty and muddy,” said a man among the crowd. “I cannot comment on the incident right now,” said an officer of the local police station on being asked about how the people managed to break open the gates despite police presence. “At around 8.15 a.m., a group of 15 people came and broke open the Lake Gardens gate. Then they headed to the Gallery Gold gate (gate no. 3) and around 15 minutes later cracked open the gate with their bare hands. The police arrived at the spot around 9 a.m., took the information about the people who had entered and went away. We then locked the gates. However, about thirty minutes later, the same group of people returned at the Gallery Gold gate again and forcefully broke that gate down. Police officers did not take any action against their violent activities. They just did a round-up all around the Sarovar area and simply vanished in thin air,” said a security guard.

Police had earlier said that 15 other waterbodies have been opened for the convenience of the public due to closure of Rabindra Sarovar and large number of police would be deployed at the spot. Environmentalists said that the incident was unprecedented.

“The city has never seen such an incident. It is nothing but vote bank politics,” said a city environment activist. Sumita Banerjee, who was earlier one of the members of the monitoring committee ordered by the High Court, alleged, “Despite court orders not to use the lake during Chhath Puja and make sufficient arrangements, there were no police personnel seen at the gates. I called up the local police and the KMDA authorities, but they just said that the matter is being looked into. Although KMDA did put some efforts, it was the fault of the state administration that allowed hundreds of people inside the lake that created a ruckus. Now is has been learnt that the police will come after 3pm, but the violation of the court orders has already been done.”

Mr Mani Prasad Singh of Rashtriya Bihari Samaj alleged that the move was politically motivated. “The Bihari Society is large and there are supporters of various parties. A section of Biharis who are against the ruling party, broke the lock and entered inside the lake.” Singh also claimed since morning and there were no people offering puja there. However, at around 2p.m. when a leader of the BJP, arrived and asked people to continue offering puja, in the lake as usual, the people started entering the lake to offer Puja after 3pm, one hour after his visit.”