|Kalpana Barman, who qualified the test, and brother Tapas who missed the target by 10 seconds. Pictures by Kinsuk Basu
Calcutta, June 6: Kalpana Barman ran the race of her young life today — at 40°C and the humidity pushing 80 per cent at the Royal Calcutta Turf Club compound.
The daughter of a poor farmer in Cooch Behar could not afford to shield herself from the merciless sun. She had to sprint 400 metres in two minutes to qualify for the next two steps to a job in police and realise her dream of earning two square meals for five members of her family back home.
“I took a deep breath and ran for my life,” said Kalpana, 20. “Sweat was dripping down my eyelids and it was difficult to see. The heat was unbearable but I had to run.”
She was appearing for the physical eligibility test to become a Calcutta police constable.
When she was leaving the turf, where crores are won and lost over thoroughbreds in races that last a few minutes, Kalpana was smiling as she knew she had moved a notch closer to earn around Rs 14,000 a month, the salary of a new recruit in the police.
If she can clear two more steps — a written examination to be followed by an interview — she will become a government employee, a dream the BA final year student at Dinhata college grew up with.
“My father is a farmer and we struggle to make ends meet… I have two younger brothers and the youngest would be appearing for his Madhaymik exams next year,” Kalpana said, her eyelids glistening with sweat.
So punishing was the physical endurance test that Abhishek Pal, 22, a resident of Noapara, died tonight after he fell unconscious and was taken to SSKM hospital. He, along with three others, had taken ill after running 1,600 metres — the men’s qualifying distance — in the heat.
Late tonight, the police said the physical test would be suspended from tomorrow and would resume on June 20.
Over 1,500 women and 4,500 men turned up at the imposing gates of RCTC this morning with the dream of a job — the biggest challenge facing the Bengal government. While most Calcuttans were fretting over the unusually high discomfort index — a combined indicator of heat and humidity, which touched 69.5°C today — this young group was patiently waiting in long queues for turns to run.
Such queues had become a fixture outside RCTC since April 16, when the first elimination round was launched to induct 55 women constables and 2,500 male constables.
Sources said that over 6 lakh men and 55,000 women have applied for the vacancies that the new government decided to fill.
Partho Ghosh, a relative of Abhishek Pal, blamed the timing of the test for the examinee’s death. “This is brutal. How can you conduct a running test in such heat? The administration is responsible for his death,” he said.
Before Pal’s death, a senior official had said: “Those who will be inducted to the force will have to work under such adverse weather conditions and so they have to clear the endurance test.”
“Over the last few days, we have seen a number of candidates slumping on the tracks. Probably, they were unable to bear the heat,” another officer on the ground said.
“We have made necessary arrangements with ambulance, para-medics and ORS to help candidates in case they face any problem,” said Debasish Roy, additional police commissioner.
An officer overseeing the tests at the turf could not recall a single instance where a candidate enquired about the availability of these facilities before hitting the running tracks. The hunger for jobs has gnawed away all other fears.
On average, 6,000 men and 1,600 women have been turning up every day, one of the officers said.
All the applicants are, however, not allowed to run. Women who weigh below 48kg and are shorter than 160cm are not eligible for the endurance test. Male parameters are different — weight: 55kg; height: 167cm; and chest: 78cm without expansion. The men have to clear 1,600 metres in six-and-a-half minutes.
Kalpana’s family passed one test today but failed in another by a whisker.
Behind Kalpana stood Tapas, her other brother. Having completed his Plus-2, Tapas, too, had taken today’s test but finished 10 seconds beyond the target.
“In February, when I ran a similar distance in Barrackpur for a job in Bengal police, I had finished successfully. I just couldn’t take the heat today,” he said.
An officer confirmed that many like Tapas had failed to clear the endurance test by a few seconds in the past few days primarily because of the weather.
Tapas is still waiting for the call letter for the written test to join Bengal police.
In the interlude, he has little option but to run the races that come his way — no matter how ruthless the day is.