The Salt Lake stadium under construction: Controversial movesFor years Calcutta’s soccer-crazy crowds have been clamouring for a large stadium where it would be possible for them to watch their favourite teams in action without having to scramble for a ticket.And just when it seemed their dream would come true in,The Salt Lake stadium under construction: Controversial movesFor years Calcutta’s soccer-crazy crowds have been clamouring for a large stadium where it would be possible for them to watch their favourite teams in action without having to scramble for a ticket.And just when it seemed their dream would come true in the shape of the 120,000-seat stadium being constructed in the eastern suburb of Salt Lake for the past five years, a major controversy has been kicked up. Embroiled in it is no less an organisation than the one entrusted with its construction, namely, the Society for Sports and Stadium (SSS). The society has on its committee the chief minister and several other ministers of the Left Front. The controversy it has created centres round the wide-scale media campaign it started recently, aimed at flushing out huge sums of money from businessmen.In return they were promised rewards of “golden cards”, which would not only enable them to watch all matches at the new stadium as life members but would also ensure a seat during the cricket Tests at the Eden Gardens. The advertisements offered such privileges to individuals who paid Rs 10,000 and commercial institutions which paid Rs 25,000.The society obviously felt that this was the best way of raising funds to complete the Rs 16-crore project as the state Government would clearly contribute no more than the Rs 4 crore that it has done so far. In fact the very idea of forming the society developed from the realisation that the stadium could not be completed without donations from business houses which it would not be possible for the Government to accept.advertisementHowever, as the ads appeared, the extra sensitive sections within the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and other constituent parties began raising questions about the wisdom of accepting ‘tainted’ money from the business community.Poor Response: More than this, what has been more disquieting for the society is the continuing poor response for golden cards largely because of the uncertainty that has cropped up about availability of the cricket tickets. This follows the stiff attitude taken by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) which organises Test matches and has naturally looked on the promise of seats reserved as an encroachment on its own territory.Matters were further complicated when the SSS Secretary, Kamal Basu, a solicitor by profession, told a press conference that the state Government had promised the society 10,000 seats. He added: “We do not know how the Government will arrange that with the CAB. It is a matter to be settled between the two.”So far the two parties have not been able to work out any solution. At an informal meeting with the CAB president, former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Chief Minister Jyoti Basu was reported to have suggested that the additional block of seats to be given to the CAB would be constructed by the Government at its own cost. Ray’s counter-proposal was that the seats be constructed by the CAB itself and “the Government can use these for its purpose”, provided it agreed to grant the Eden Gardens to the cab on a long lease. As Ray later said: “cab would like to assert its right over the Eden Gardens.” Protracted Negotiations: At the meeting, Ray also expressed the CAB’S unhappiness at a third party’s promising seats at the Gardens. However, he was assured by the chief minister that he would tell the society, of which he is also a member, that nothing final should be done as matters were still under discussion. The negotiations are likely to be protracted with West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakravarti making it clear that “the Government does not want a confrontation with the CAB.” Nevertheless, pending finalisation of this important issue, the SSS continued to invite applications for golden cards. Said a spokesman: “We are not enrolling members and only applications are being accepted.”It will, however, be a pity if work on the stadium is further delayed, projected by the organisers to be the largest in Asia; there are also claims that it will be bigger than the ones at Wembley, Moscow and Barcelona. The sports complex will cover an 80-acre area and apart from the main football stadium, there will be a tartan track for athletics, a 20,000 capacity astroturf hockey stadium, a velodrome for cycling and an indoor swimming pool. But right now discussion on the chances of completion of the complex have receded in the face of the current controversy.