Freedom to blare and browbeat

Our Bureau

The stamp of Trinamul on a soiree is allegedly a licence to play past midnight in violation of noise norms, and don't you dare raise your decibel about it. Schoolteacher Ruma Halder learnt this the hard way on Independence Day.

Name-dropping organisers rained stones on 40-year-old Ruma's three-storey house at 5/1C Dover Terrace and threatened her family members while the cops whose help she had sought held her back at Gariahat police station till 2am on Thursday, concerned about her "safety" in the face of a reprisal they seemed powerless against.

Smashed windowpanes and the damaged main door to Ruma's house, which she shares with her father and four brothers and their families, told the story of the terror unleashed on the family for protesting the noise.

"All I had asked for was for the loud music to be stopped so that my 88-year-old father, who was beginning to feel sick because of the noise, could sleep. Two members of the organising committee told me the function had the blessings of Trinamul councillor (and mayoral council member) Debasish Kumar," the teacher of physical education at Jadavpur's Adarsha Balika Vidyalaya told Metro.

Ruma had waited until 10.15pm ' the loudspeaker deadline is 10pm ' to ask the organisers of the show to switch off the sound system. They refused. She could try approaching the police but it wouldn't work, they told her.

Ruma walked to the police station, around a kilometre away, to lodge a complaint and request the cops to immediately stop the soiree. While walking back home, she spotted two policemen in a car parked some distance from the stage.

"I went up to them and asked why they hadn't stopped the function yet. The cops advised me to leave or get into the car for my safety. They drove me back to the police station," the schoolteacher recounted.

As Ruma sat worrying about her family at the police station and the cops allegedly waited for the soiree to run its course, the Halder family's house took a battering.

The police arrested two of the organisers allegedly involved in the attack on Thursday morning, charging them with rioting, assault and molestation. Gourab Das and Manojit Chowdhury were granted bail by an Alipore court in the evening.

"The organisers went berserk when our team tried to stop the show. We didn't delay action," claimed a senior officer.

Decibel devil hits I-Day high

Councillor Kumar denied giving "permission" to continue the show beyond midnight. "I have instructed the police to take appropriate steps against anyone using my name to justify a misdeed," he said.

Ruma may have been the only one to complain but many suffered a similar assault on their eardrums across the city on Tuesday and Wednesday because of a new addition to the city's celebration calendar by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Crackers were burst and loudspeakers blared music at midnight on August 14 itself in the name of celebrating freedom. Mamata herself was part of a programme on Tuesday night that blocked one flank of Asutosh Mukherjee Road in Hazra and continued all speakers blazing beyond midnight.

The chief minister was at the venue till 10.30pm, missing singer Indranil Sen's countdown-to-midnight rendition of ' mama kothay geli re in a neighbourhood that must have been wondering where their sleep had gone.

At the stroke of 12, railway minister Mukul Roy hoisted the Tricolour and the crowd chanted in unison: "Jai Hind, Vande Mataram, Trinamul Congress Zindabad."

The rule book and a high court ruling state that nobody can use a loudspeaker in the open without police permission, which can be granted only till 10pm for sound not exceeding 65 decibels.

The law also specifies that no loudspeaker can be put up within 100 metres of silent zones like hospitals, educational institutions or a court in operation.

If any of these norms are not adhered to, the police have the power to confiscate the equipment used and start a case under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act. The punishment is a fine up to Rs 1 lakh and 5 years of imprisonment.

But as Ruma and her family's torment on Independence Day proved, for the chosen few freedom also means getting away with breaking all the rules.