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Road grab for CM rally

A portion of Bentinck Street has been blocked and some trees along its intersection with Central Avenue pruned to make space for Mamata Banerjee’s dais at a rally still four days away.

Sources in the traffic department said at least a third of the Bentinck Street carriageway had already been encroached on for the martyrs’ day programme on July 21, resulting in a bottleneck near the KC Das crossing.

Guardrails barricading a stretch opposite the income-tax building affected traffic flow towards Ganesh Chandra Avenue throughout Tuesday.

“It is not often that roads are blocked so many days ahead of a programme,” said an officer posted at Esplanade on Tuesday afternoon. “But exceptions can always be made for a programme organised by the ruling party.”

In the last week of June, an entire flank of Chowringhee Road had been blocked by a giant tent and a dais set up for an official Hool Divas programme commemorating the 1855 tribal uprising. The chief guest was Mamata Banerjee, who had promised last year to banish traffic-stopper gatherings from the city centre.

Sources in Lalbazar said a part of Bentinck Street had been barricaded to increase the area of the D-circle around the dais from where the chief minister would address the martyrs’ day crowd.

“Every year, during this rally, there is a huge pressure from people trying to make their way to near the dais from behind just to see their leaders from close. This year, we intend increasing the area around the dais that will be out of bounds for the supporters,” an officer said.

Bentinck Street barricaded on Tuesday to build a dais for the July 21 rally. (Sayantan Ghosh)

In 2010, such was the surge of people trying to get close to the stage that the barricades fell.

While security in the rally zone is being reviewed, the police have no answer to how Bentinck Street can be encroached on days before the event. Officers also claimed they had nothing to do with the branches of trees being chopped off to create space for a dais and a larger sterile zone around it.

“The police don’t look into these things. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation does,” an officer said.

Debasish Chakraborty, the director-general of parks and gardens in the CMC, denied the civic body was even aware of trees being pruned in front of Victoria House. “The corporation didn’t cut any trees or branches. Nobody has reported it either,” he said.

The martyrs’ day event last year was held at the Brigade Parade ground with the Trinamul Congress, fresh from a massive electoral victory, turning it into more of a celebration.

With the party shifting the programme back to the area in front of Victoria House, the police are reviewing what they did right or wrong in 2010 to make sure there are no hiccups this year.

Lalbazar is bracing for a turnout of not less than three lakh people. The plan is to stem the surge at several points to reduce the pressure closer to the rally venue.

“We will request people to sit wherever a procession stops moving. They should not push their way through the gathering just to reach the dais,” joint commissioner of police (headquarters) Jawed Shamim said. “We have requested the organisers to deploy people at certain locations to coordinate with the police and also to install giant screens at some places for those who won’t be able to reach close to the venue.”

Trinamul leaders Mukul Roy and Subrata Bakshi visited Lalbazar on Tuesday to discuss the arrangements.

Those who take Brabourne Road to reach Central Avenue on that day will be diverted to Mission Row. Crowds approaching the dais from Lenin Sarani will be made to pass through Madan Street.

People approaching the rally venue from south Calcutta will be allowed to take S.P. Mukherjee Road and hit Jawaharlal Nehru Road through the Birla Planetarium crossing. Those coming from the Bypass side will be routed through CIT Road, Moulali and SN Banerjee Road towards Dorina Crossing.

Crowds coming from Howrah will be routed through Kingsway and Rani Rashmoni Avenue.