The Left Front rally on Tuesday afternoon that caused massive snarls at the city centre. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
Commuters in Calcutta are used to walking to their destinations after getting stuck in rallies. In a bizarre role reversal, they were made to do so by police, instead of the rallyists who had laid siege to the city centre on Tuesday afternoon.
The cops stopped Babughat-bound buses at the Dorina Crossing and asked the passengers to get off so that the vehicles could be used to take the rallyists who had courted arrest to Presidency jail in Alipore.
The police were apparently forced to do so because the buses they had booked to ferry the arrested were caught in the snarl caused by the rally. “We had arranged for 48 buses to ferry rally supporters but the vehicles did not reach the place, where they were arrested, on time,” said a senior officer at Lalbazar.
About 5,000 Left Front supporters had turned up for the rally to protest price rise, of whom 3,660 were arrested and later released.
The officer denied that any bus was stopped and the passengers were forced to disembark. But Metro saw policemen stop buses and direct them to the flank of RR Avenue filled with Left Front supporters.
Among the buses stopped were those plying to Babughat from Barasat, Gouripur and Dum Dum Cantonment.
“Bustake niye Alipore jete hobe (You have drive this bus to Alipore),” a policeman told the driver of a Barasat-Babughat bus, who was clueless about why he had been stopped.
One of the passengers in the bus protested. “Why will I get down? Why should I walk to Babughat?” he asked, but there was none to listen to him. The conductor pleaded helplessness. A policeman on the road shouted: “Hente chole jaan (you can walk).”
Since the buses that were stopped were to terminate at Babughat, none of them had more 10 passengers on board.
The 15-minute walk to Babughat, about a kilometre away, was in store for many of those who were made to get off. Some managed to board Howrah-bound buses, which were not made to stop.
Even for those who were not on buses, the Left Front protest, from 2pm, caused plenty of problems. The dais was built on Y Road, a lane off Metro Channel, but the turnout spilled over and blocked 80 per cent of the Dorina Crossing.
Vehicles queued up on all roads that led to the crossing. Prantik Chatterjee, a student headed to Girish Park, said it had taken him 15 minutes to reach the crossing from Park Street.
Traffic flow along Central Avenue was among the worst hit with a flank blocked since afternoon to erect a dais for the annual Trinamul rally on July 21.
The scarcity of buses also brought two rallies face to face. A rally by the Joint Action Council of University Employees with about 350 participants was made to wait on SN Banerjee Road, with a long queue of vehicles behind it.
The police were unsure about letting the rally proceed as the arrested Left Front supporters were still on RR Avenue waiting for the buses to take them away. They finally escorted the university employees through the crowd of Left Front supporters, to a place on Y Road, behind the Left Front dais.
A police officer on duty at the site said on condition of anonymity that about 15 buses carrying passengers had to be stopped and emptied. “What could we do? We had to clear RR Avenue and needed more buses to do that,” he said.
The entire west-bound flank of RR Avenue and Metro Channel was blocked from 2pm to 4pm because of the rally. The arrests were made from around 3pm. Had enough buses been available on time, the roads could have been opened about 45 minutes earlier, said the officer.