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Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

Last updated on: February 21, 2012 10:15 IST

Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

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The West Bengal government gives its capital city a makeover -- with new theme colours, says Debaleena Sengupta

What is the colour of change, or paribartan, as it is better known in West Bengal? For the city of Kolkata it is not going to be red, saffron or green -- even though green is the ruling Trinamool Congress's own colour. It is instead sky blue and white. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has chosen the combination of sky blue and white as the theme colours for the City of Joy.

Her government plans to paint the city blue and white.

"Under the previous regime, Kolkata had lost its sheen and was called a 'dying city' by outsiders," says Minister for Urban Development Firhad Hakim, "so a facelift is necessary."

This initiative is a joint effort by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Public Works Development, urban development ministry and Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority.

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Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

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All over the city, railings, traffic islands, flyovers, footbridges and parks will soon be coloured in stripes of blue and white. Painters are already hard at work. KMC has allocated Rs 65 lakh for this repainting project expected to be completed by summer.

Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chattopadhay defines the theme colours thus, "The sky is the limit for Bengal's dream development, and white is absorbent of all colours and symbolises peace and harmony."

If public structures are all to be painted in the theme colours, then will government establishments like Writers' Building, the Bidhan Sabha, New Market and the Corporation building also be repainted?

"No," says the mayor, "The old heritage buildings will retain their original colour."

Writer's Building stays red, but has been festooned with blue and white decorative lights.

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Image: A woman watches a procession in Kolkata
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

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Owners of private houses, if they too paint their homes blue and white, have been promised a concession on their property tax. The mayor refuses, however, to say what kind and size of tax concession they will be given.

Transport Minister Madan Mitra, who is perceived as being close to Banerjee, has proposed that the new theme colour also be adopted by Kolkata's iconic yellow taxis.

"The notoriety of city cabs in terms of passenger complaints in the form of refusal, ill-treatment and meter-tampering had been neglected by the previous regime," Mitra says.

He wants to encourage a passenger-friendly service, so this taxi image makeover is designed to harmonise with the new city colour theme.

Along with the new colour combination, he says, Kolkata cabs will be allowed to rent some of their outer surface area to private advertisers. This will help taxi owners and drivers to defray the painting and maintenance costs. After discussions with private cab associations, the department will release the necessary white papers.

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Image: Children play soccer on a field in front of the Victoria Memorial
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

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Tapati Guha Thakurta, a professor of history at the well-regarded Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, believes that no other city in India has such a thing as a theme colour.

"Jaipur, which is known as the Pink City, is not all pink," she says.

India's Blue City, Jodhpur, maintains the colour blue in and around the Mehrangarh fort to safeguard the heritage theme of the medieval fort. But the theme is confined to a particular area.

Kolkata is one of the oldest modern cities of India. Its magnificent but dilapidated architecture cries out for archaeological restoration.

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Image: A rally by the supporters of Trinamool Congress
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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Blue sky is the limit for Mamata Banerjee's Kolkata

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Guha Thakurta points out that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has been able to help save and restore the grand colonial buildings in downtown Mumbai, and that new structures there are designed so as not too clash too awkwardly with the old ones.

She does not expect such a happy compromise in her own city. "The colour blue is a misfit for a colonial city like Kolkata," she says.

Bengali author Sunil Gangopadhyay, chairman of the Sahitya Akademi, agrees and sounds a warning. "The vibrancy of Kolkata," he says, "lies in the myriad hues spread across the city. Uniformity will not be accepted by its people for long."

There are many far more important projects awaiting government attention than a colour scheme for Kolkata.

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Image: A boy plays in front of a residential estate in Kolkata
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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