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Cable kills, snake-like
(From left) The loose metal strip that sprang up to kill Amit Dalmia on Monday night on Camac Street was plastered over in the morning. Amit (right), holding a baby, with his brother.

Calcutta, May 13: A death trap was lying in wait for a victim for seven days in the middle of a busy city street, but no one bothered to notice it. Neither the civic authorities, nor police, nor even the people who, unwittingly, had laid it.

Until 25-year-old Amit Dalmia drove his Maruti Zen right into it and got killed last night.

The story of Dalmia’s tragic death, pieced together from accounts of witnesses, family members and investigations carried out by the police, goes like this: Around 10.30 pm, Dalmia was on his way from his Ritchie Road residence to a friend’s place on Camac Street.

As he turned right from Albert Road onto Camac Street, he failed to notice a four-foot-long metal strip, raised dangerously at an incline of about 10 inches from the road. The fault of missing it was not his: shrouded in the darkness, and coated with dirt, it didn’t glint in the beam of the car’s headlights.

The next moment, as the car passed over it, the two-inch wide metal strip, 10 mm thick, pierced the car’s bottom and, rising sharply with the impact, tore through Dalmia’s clothes before ripping his lungs and heart. By the time Dalmia was extricated from the car and rushed to SSKM hospital, he was dead.

The metal strip had been placed by Reliance Infocomm as protective covering for its optic fibre cables while networking the city last year as part of its operation to wire up the country.

“I will take the company to court,” said Santosh Dalmia, Amit’s father. “I don’t want anyone dying like this for the callousness of a company. My son had a promising career. He had just returned from the UK after completing his MBA from the University of Leeds. He had no business dying like this.”

So far, the police have only lodged a case of accidental death. “The fatal squad is investigating the case and only if we find that there had been negligence on the part of the company concerned, will we proceed against them,” said deputy commissioner, traffic, M.K. Singh.

Ram Iqbal Singh, a caretaker in a building next to the accident spot, said for the past week he had noticed the metal strip lying exposed and thought it was a wonder an accident had not taken place earlier. “When I saw the car hitting the metal strip, I knew it would maul the car, but I never imagined that it would cause such an untimely death as well,” Singh said.

Officials of Reliance Infocomm expressed “surprise” that the metal strip should have come loose “despite the latest technology being used to embed it”. Describing it as an “isolated case”, the chief executive officer of the company based in Calcutta, Shankho Chowdhury, said: “It appears that some thieves or miscreants tampered with it and when they could not steal it, left it dangling. Besides, Dalmia was driving too fast.”

According to Chowdhury, the cables are laid “automatically” by a US-made instrument called the direct burying cable machine. This machine makes a hole on the road surface, which is two inches wide and six to eight inches deep. The optic fibre cables are then laid, after which they are covered with a special foam.

Finally, a “galvanised mild steel” protective strip is placed on top of it, two-and-a-half inches below the road surface. Thereafter, it is covered with a special sealant which levels out the road. “The idea of it jutting out all by itself, and without it being tampered with, is absurd,” Chowdhury said. “We have been practising this method throughout the country.”

When it was pointed out to him that there are several instances of this happening in other parts of the city, Chowdhury said: “This is not known to us. We have our vigilance department which carries out regular checks and they would certainly have noticed.”

Santosh Dalmia said Amit received a call from a friend at 9, asking him over for dinner. “Around 10.45, I received a call from Shakespeare Sarani police station informing me about the incident.” Amit’s brothers, Vishal and Ashish, left for SSKM Hospital. “He was dead when we reached,” they said.

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