As Bali Jatra kicks off tomorrow, let’s look at some of the controversies surrounding the historic annual fair that made news in the past.
Maut ka Kuan (well of death) laid to rest
In 2009, eight persons were injured after the temporary stairs leading to the gallery of Maut ka Kuan caved in. The show was immediately stopped and three persons, including the owner of the show organising company, were arrested.
The following years the organizers were denied permission citing safety reasons.
Maut ka Kuan was one the main attractions of the fair. Stuntmen used to perform death-defying stunts on three motorcycles and two cars in 25ft deep and 50ft wide well. People used to climb up to the gallery to watch the show, which lasted for 10 to 15 minutes.
Following the mishap, a technical committee comprising mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and fire service officials was formed to inspect the safety measures adopted by the operators of various joy rides.
Green tribunal shadow on festival
The National Green Tribunal (NGT), in its second intermediate order issued recently, has asked the organizers to ensure that the fair is free of plastic and arrangements are made for clearing garbage and waste daily from the ground.
Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty had petitioned the tribunal, seeking intervention against ‘dumping of municipal solid waste by the Cuttack Municipal Corporation and rampant encroachment on the riverbed and embankments of the Mahanadi and Kathajodi rivers’.
Bali Jatra is organised on 37 acres near Gadagadia Shiv Temple, which includes 23 acres on the Mahanadi riverbed and 14 acres on the adjoining Killa Maidan. More than 60 per cent of the kiosks is erected on the riverbed.
“Having regard to the fact that Bali Yatra festival is an annual affair in the state, the authorities may consider avoiding sites on the riverbed,” the east zone bench of Justice S.P. Wangdi (judicial member) and Prof P.C. Mishra (expert member) said in its interim order last year.
The organizers got the green light for holding the fair after the district administration informed the bench that the contentious ground is merely an islet.
Taming the fire
The fire mishap at a private hospital in Bhubaneswar in which 22 persons were killed in 2016 turned the attention to safety measures in place during the fair. The Central Electricity Supply Utility (CESU) officials were asked to ensure no incident of short circuit due to defective electric supply system and a special squad was formed to inspect electric supply system, electric run joy riders and other equipment in the fair.
The organizers were asked to make arrangements for a special corridor for easy fire exit and movement of ambulance and fire tenders, besides allowing adequate space between the rows of stalls for visitors.
‘Stall’ing the process
This year, traders were at loggerheads with the Cuttack district administration over hike in the rates for plots by Rs 2 per square feet for setting up temporary stalls. These will now cost Rs 24 square feet this year compared to Rs 22 last year. Besides, the traders were also asked to pay Rs 4 extra towards user fee and other expenses.
If this was not enough, the district administration decided to make Aadhaar mandatory for setting up stalls during the fair. This was aimed at eliminating multiple registrations by single vendor and illegal profiteering by selling the plots at a higher rate to third parties.
Lens on food quality
Bali Yatra is synonymous with Thunka Puri, a gastronomical delight. To ensure the quality of food at the fair, a joint squad of the district administration and the municipal corporation in 2013 launched a crackdown and seized 3 quintals of stale food. Sanitary workers were asked to destroy the stale food items seized after treating them with bleaching powder. The squad found that traders mixed stale food that remained unsold with fresh items.
Packaged food items that did carry manufacturing or expiry date were also seized during the surprise raids. The quality of spices, ketchups and use of sub-standard products, including edible oil, was thoroughly checked.