The state urban development and municipal affairs minister, and mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), Firhad Hakim, today said Rabindra Sarobar and Subhash Sarobar lakes were cleaned up the following morning after the Chhath puja and that a state government cannot ask police to lathi charge citizens for performing puja rituals. A high powered advisory committee has also been formed to help the government tackle rising levels of air pollution in the city, he said.

Addressing the issue of devotees barging into the Rabindra Sarobar Lake to perform Chhath Puja despite a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban, Mr Hakim, said “We had made alternative arrangements for the Chhath Puja devotees at Jodhpur Park lake and many of them did visit there. However a small percentage of people went inside Rabindra Sarobar to perform the rituals. But the KMDA and KMC workers had cleaned up all the waste from the lake, next morning. Moreover, we had even requested the devotees not to perform the puja at the lake concerned but they refused to, saying that they have been conducting the puja there for years now. It is a matter of sentiment for them and not just a Puja ritual.”

He added both Rabindra Sarobar and Subhas Sarobar were cleaned up after Chhath Puja.

Asked whether police was instructed not to act despite court orders, he said “We were doing our work and the police were doing theirs. How can a state government ask police to lathi charge on citizens who are just carrying out their puja rituals? How can we afford to hurt religious sentiments of people? Should a government indulge in such act against citizens? Issues like these cannot be resolved in a day but needs constant effort in creating awareness, making citizens realise the importance of saving environment.”

The mayor added: “The environmentalists who have constantly been putting all the blame on us, must realise first, that running to a court of law and flashing court orders does not bring awareness among people. We had done massive awareness campaigns which indeed showed results but none of these environmentalists ever thought of even joining us for the campaigns. The claims that the floating dead fish and other animals on the lake was because of Chhath Puja is spurious. Living creatures die of various reasons. Can anyone name me any waterbody in the world where aquatic species never die?”

Addressing the issue of increased air pollution level in the city, Firhad Hakim said: “The rising level of air pollution is a grave concern but we are taking all sorts of necessary measures such as urban forestry and installing sprinklers. We have formed a high powered committee that comprise several experts from both Pollution Control Board and other institutes like Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) and Jadavpur University.”

“The chairman of the 13 member committee is Prof. Aniruddha Mukherjee, environmental science, Calcutta University,” he said.

The mayor further pointed out: “The committee will submit a short term plan within 15 days and a long term one within 45 days.”