SPOT THE TRAFFIC: A Sunday feel to Esplanade on Tuesday afternoon. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Calcutta took its first winter weekday holiday on Tuesday, turning a bandh without political muscle into an excuse to cast work culture out of the window.
The streets were Sunday-like, attendance in offices and educational institutions low and the mood relaxed as the city switched to self-shutdown mode, giving SUCI the success it has seldom had and the Calcutta critics’ club another reason to question its work credentials.
“Bandhs are a major irritant, more so when Bengal is in the news for all the wrong reasons. One more bandh adds to this negative image,” said Rajiv Singh, the director-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
So what prompted the city to shut down despite there being little pressure to do so? “As far as I know, SUCI bandhs are seldom effective. So the decision to stay at home basically reflects a mindset that looks for excuses to enjoy a day off,” said Singh.
The absence of hawkers for a reason other than the SUCI shutdown against price rise added to the bandh feeling. Saktiman Ghosh, the general secretary of the Hawker Sangram Committee, said the city’s 2.75 lakh-strong community of hawkers was protesting the launch of Operation Sunshine against them on this day 14 years ago.
Metro services were normal but traffic was 35 per cent less than on a weekday, a spokesperson said.
Schools bore the brunt of the bandh fear-factor with attendance ranging from abysmal to low.
Apeejay School, La Martiniere for Girls and Modern High were among the worst hit. “The situation on the street was near-normal. So we held regular classes even if there were only 10 girls in a class. What was taught today will not be repeated,” said a teacher at La Martiniere for Girls, where attendance was around 25 per cent, for classes VI to XII.
Students were advised not to set out of home “if there was a problem” but most parents chose not to risk it. “In Calcutta, you never know when things might take a turn for the worse,” said the mother of a Class VIII student of Apeejay School on Park Street, where only three children turned up.
At Writers’ Buildings, where a new attendance regime took effect last week, around 76 per cent of the workforce reported for duty on Tuesday, sources said.
The customs department fared far worse with an attendance figure of only 37 per cent. Lalbazar recorded 75 per cent attendance and the general post office 72 per cent.
The bus count was around 30 per cent lower than usual but there were enough transport options — 3,000 buses and 400 minibuses, apart from autos, taxis and Metro — for those who had the will to work.
Jawed Shamim, the joint commissioner of police (headquarters), said the city was peaceful throughout the day. “Around 40 SUCI supporters were arrested,” he added.