Jaipur, Jan 18 : The annual Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), is almost here but with its bag of controversy.
A PIL has been filed today in the Rajasthan High Court by Sanjeev Gupta, 46, an RTI activist and a doctor, who says the petition is regarding the life and liberty of people of Jaipur. The petition has been admitted and the hearing is scheduled for Jan 20.
The petition is based on a report prepared by Deputy Police Commissioner (South), which had first refused permission to hold the JLF at the same venue. The reasons given were surging crowds, traffic snarls, shortage of parking spaces, inadequate fire fighting system in the densely populated residential area. The permission was, however, later granted on Jan 2.
The festival’s venue-the 17th Century Diggi Palace, which is also a heritage hotel and home of the Diggi family, is at end of a lane and connected to one of the main arterial roads of Jaipur, Tonk Road. During the festival days, the traffic jams create chaos. The JLF takes place between Jan 21 and Jan 25 this year.
The petitioner’s main contention is that the state’s main government hospital, Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Hospital and trauma centre is very near to the venue and during the festival days, even ambulances face traffic blockades, thus putting a patient’s life at risk.
The PIL states that according to a report prepared by the DCP (South), the festival gets around 30,000 to 35,000 visitors everyday on an average but the place is suitable only for 2000 people.
And as the polytrauma ward of SMS Hospital stands next to the venue, the resultant traffic jams is a manmade hazard for patients.
The DCP ’s report was prepared by Ashok Nagar police station under whose jurisdiction the venue falls. This was in response to a letter dated Nov 30, 2015 from Shorupa Dutta from Teamwork Arts who sought permission for holding the festival.
The DCP report categorically states that there is parking for only about 50 vehicles near the venue and the fire fighting system is not up to the mark.
The venue is located in a densely populated residential area and since many VIPs including politicians and celebrities from different fields attend this festival, even terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out. Hence permission to hold the festival at Diggi Palace should not be granted and the shifting the venue should be considered.
Citing an example, the petitioner said last year when late president APJ Abdul Kalam came to the venue, the security had tough time handling the crowd and found it difficult to take the guest to the podium. And outside there were traffic snarls and road blocks, causing immense inconvenience to common people. The petitioner says it is the duty of the state authorities to protect the life of people. Also the government cannot act in a manner, just to benefit a private party at the risk of life of people.
Gupta says he is not against holding the JLF as it has added immensely to the name and fame of Jaipur. His only concern is about appropriate security, fire fighting system and crowd management.
Sanjoy Roy, the managing director of Teamwork Arts, however says: “The police, the administration have taken enough precautions to manage the festival.
Every year, the venue has been decongested, parking places increased and traffic and crowd management streamlined. There can never be an ideal situation but we have tried and will always try our best.”
Over the weekend, the crowd at JLF surges. Last year the footfalls was a little over 2.70 lakh. But this time on the spot registration will cost Rs 100 to discourage those who just loiter in.
Controversy is nothing new to JLF. The first one that hit the headlines was when Salman Rushdie who had spoken at the 2007 JLF, was all set to attend the 2012 edition when he had to pull back after protests from top Muslim organisations and intelligence inputs that “paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to ‘eliminate’ him.
At that point, it was decided that Rushdie would speak at the JLF through a video link on the concluding day of the festival. However, it was called off as hardliner groups continued with their protests against the author and threatened to disrupt the Festival if the video conference took place.
There was more furore when four reputed authors Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, and Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi read out from The Satanic Verses at two different sessions of the JLF provoking security threats and law-and-order problems. The four writers had to hastily leave the festival soon after.
Another row that rocked the JLF was when scholar Ashish Nandy,speaking at a session titled “Republic of Ideas” at the JLF 2013, said: “”It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive.”
Nandy, a scholar whose work has been profoundly marked by a pro-Dalit and backward-classes sentiment for more than 30 years, landed in trouble. The media picked up the singular statement and gave it a certain anti-backward-classes interpretation. There were nation-wide protests against the sociologist, calling for immediate action for such a blatant anti-SC/ST comment. An FIR was filed against Nandy and festival producer Sanjoy Roy under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by Rajpal Meena, state president of the National Union of Backward Classes, SC, ST and Minorities.