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Arteries blocked, traffic collapses
- five roads closed for five hours as protest rallies lay siege to city heart

Five of the busiest roads in the central business district were closed to traffic from 11am till 4pm on Thursday to allow a string of rallies, grounding the Calcuttan on the move in the heart of the city and beyond.

The phone wouldn’t stop ringing in the principal’s office at Modern High School for Girls after a bus that went to drop junior school students at Nimtala in the north took over four hours to return to base and ferry the senior students home.

“Parents worried about their wards not returning home at the usual time started calling every few minutes. We had to requisition another bus to drop them home,” an official said.

Schoolteacher A. Biswas took an hour and a half to reach her home on Convent Road from her workplace near Minto Park, a short distance that usually takes her not more than 20 minutes to cover. Joseph Chacko travelled two hours to reach his destination in Behala from Entally, a distance of around 10km.

The disruptions kicked off with around 3,000 people from a tribal group laying siege to Rani Rashmoni Avenue at 10am. Around 4,000 Left supporters assembled on Mayo Road close to noon for a rally that continued till 4pm.

A third gathering of some 25,000 people protesting a film denigrating Islam in front of the American Center on Jawaharlal Nehru Road turned the car crawl into a complete traffic shutdown.

Chowringhee Road, Mayo Road, Dufferin Road, SN Banerjee Road and Rani Rashmoni Avenue were closed to traffic for five hours from 11am.

Portions of Central Avenue, Park Street and Theatre Road were also shut for more than an hour, leaving commuters stranded from north to south, east to west.

The protesters blocked both flanks of the Metro Channel, squatted near the Esplanade crossing, parked Matadors and buses along parts of the Maidan and marched up to the American Center shouting slogans.

The burden of traffic diverted from the key arteries fell on Red Road, AJC Bose Road and BBD Bag East, choking them in quick time.

Commuters tired of waiting for cars and buses to move got off and walked to their destinations.

A resident of Salt Lake who took two hours to travel 8km on the way to his office in Esplanade left his car and driver to walk the last kilometre.

The impact of the rallies wasn’t limited to traffic in the central business district and the thoroughfares connecting to north and south Calcutta. Motorists were caught in snarls in Ekbalpore, Vidyasagar Setu, Parama Island and Maniktala all through the day because of the chaos in and around Esplanade.

Traffic through the Park Circus seven-point crossing and the EM Bypass, where construction has already eaten up road space, was also reduced to a crawl.

The police said they hadn’t anticipated such a large turnout at the rally in front of the American Center.

“We had been told that a small group would converge on Esplanade, but the gathering gradually turned big,” a senior officer said.

“What we did to manage traffic today was the best we could have done under the circumstances. We know it affected the city traffic but we were helpless,” said Jawed Shamim, the joint commissioner of police, headquarters.