The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rulebook to rein in rallies

Calcutta, May 5: Police have put forward a set of proposals to make travelling easier on city streets.

On top of the list are preventing demonstrators from taking over arterial roads during rush hours, removing hawkers from carriageways and steeper fines on jaywalkers and violators of traffic laws.

Speaking after the release of the 2002 traffic review, city police chief Sujay Chakraborty accepted the democratic right to protest but sought to impose certain restrictions on the movement of rallies to avoid inconveniencing commuters.

“Eleven lakh vehicles ply on city streets and if measures are not taken, it would be difficult to regulate the movement of vehicles in the near future. I have proposed to the government to fix a time and a route for processions and sought to shift the venue of demonstrations from the city centre to some other spot,’’ he said.

This is not the first time, though, that a proposal to fix the day, time and route of rallies is being made. Similar efforts in the past have met with failure without the backing of political agreement.

Why should it be any different this time' “The signals I have received from the government are very clear: the mess created by rallies during rush hours has to be stopped on major thoroughfares,” Chakraborty said.

“This is why, for the first time, the police have submitted a proposal to the chief minister. This has never happened in the past and we are confident that we will get the go-ahead,” he added.

Part of this confidence stems from the initiative Budhhadeb Bhattacharjee had taken to call an all-party meeting to put an end to rallies on weekdays, persist with a crackdown on jaywalkers and instruct the police to stop blockades in the name of protest.

Demonstrators of all colours and denominations now converge on Chowringhee after marching through major thoroughfares like Lenin Sarani, S.N. Banerjee Road and Chittaranjan Avenue, choking traffic in the central business district.

The most recent instances were the string of rallies against the war on Iraq.

Police officers point out that the direction of the court is clear. Three years ago, while disposing of a petition seeking a ban on rallies on busy streets on weekdays, Justice B.P. Banerjee of Calcutta High Court had observed that while the court should not interfere in the matter, the government could do so through an administrative order.

Chakraborty said: “The processions could take a pre-determined route where traffic is not very heavy and at a time when it won’t be difficult for the police to divert vehicles.’’

The police commissioner said that in his proposal he has requested that alternate days be fixed for processions.

He has also sought a higher fine on traffic violators and jaywalkers.

“Irresponsible road manners are responsible for the majority of accident-related deaths. Now, jaywalkers are released after a paltry fine of Rs 50. We have urged the government to increase the amount. Also, I feel the fine imposed on drivers for violating traffic rules is much less than in the rest of country.”

Chakraborty said slow-moving vehicles should be restricted to the periphery of the city. “It is time for us to take an unpopular decision on handcarts and rickshaws, relics of the past.”

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