A rally between two holidays and the CPM’s threat to unleash “two lakh people” on the road prompted many to steer clear of the heart of the city on Monday and spare the central business district the traffic nightmare many had feared.
Several city schools rescheduled classes and gave over early and many office-goers preferred home to work. “The rally has been perfectly timed between a Sunday and Gandhi Jayanti, offering us an extended weekend,” said a government employee who stayed away from work.
Those who ventured out preferred to stay away from the city centre, last Thursday’s ordeal of being stranded for hours because of a protest fresh in their minds.
As a result, the usual spiral effects Calcuttans have come to associate with a public meeting or demonstration — unending traffic snarls, school buses with children stuck and ambulances hooting in futility for their right of way — were conspicuous by their absence on Monday. The few disruptions commuters faced were when the rally ended.
“A rally at Esplanade means traffic paralysis on Central Avenue. But today I am seeing completely different scenes,” said Rajesh Sidhvani, who runs a medical equipment shop on CR Avenue and has endured many a traffic-choker rallies.
An officer in the traffic department later provided an explanation for the unusually smooth traffic on CR Avenue while a rally is under way at Esplanade. “Unlike on other rally days, very few vehicles carrying rallyists were allowed to park on CR Avenue. That helped keep traffic rolling,” said the officer.
Traffic was smooth, save for an occasional delay of a few minutes, on most thoroughfares north of Esplanade — such as MG Road, Central Avenue, BB Ganguly Street, Ganesh Chandra Avenue and Brabourne Road.
“Buses from the north were diverted towards Lalbazar. Only those carrying rallyists were allowed to proceed towards Esplanade,” said a traffic sergeant. “South-bound vehicles were diverted through Lenin Sarani and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road.”
To the south of Esplanade, no major disruption was reported from key arteries, such as JL Nehru Road, Red Road, Dufferin Road, Park Street, Chowringhee Road and Theatre Road.
The CPM’s threat to mobilise up to two lakh people had rung the warning bell for most schools. La Martiniere for Girls allowed parents of students in the junior section to pick up their children at their convenience. St. James’ School gave over by 11am for the juniors and 12.20pm for the seniors, instead of the usual 1.30pm.
Shop-owners in and around New Market missed the pre-Puja madness, at least till the evening. “The first half of the day was bad. The usual Puja shoppers did not come. Only a few rallyists dropped in,” said Imtiaz Ahmed, who runs a shoe store, off New Market.