|The entrance gate set up by Trikon Havan Kund chokes a road near Ranchi University on Friday, while a light post (above), part of the pandal decoration of Chandrashekhar Durga Puja Samiti, encroaches on Main Road in Ranchi. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Durga Puja organisers have a divine right on Ranchi’s roads.
Or so it seems, as welcome arches, illumination mounts and other festive paraphernalia royally occupy thoroughfares in the capital, giving commuters a recurring nightmare in the run-up to the five-day extravaganza.
To make matters worse, the city’s guardians play cripple whenever it comes to saving mauled roads from such (un)holy encroachments.
The violation is blatant at places like Netaji Nagar in Kantatoli, Shaheed Chowk near Ranchi University and Upper Bazar, which host sprawling, big-budget pandals.
The welcome gate for the Durga Puja near Shaheed Chowk has squeezed the already narrow road leading to Kutchery by at least a foot on both sides. Effectively, there is just 6ft left for traffic, which results in rush hour snarls inconveniencing students and office-goers alike.
“The chaos increases in the afternoon, when school buses try to negotiate choked roads. Besides welcome gates, makeshift stalls selling clothes and other things for Puja make even walking difficult,” pointed out Bansi Lal Prabhu, who runs a bookstore at Upper Bazar.
Jam sessions before and during Durga Puja have been a norm on Main Road too, courtesy the pandal near Albert Ekka Chowk. While tent house consignments block traffic for long hours, poles erected to facilitate Puja lighting and sound further compound woes.
“The authorities should strictly ban pandal encroachments. As it is, roads are narrow here. Decorations cause endless troubles for us,” fumed a passer-by on Main Road.
Satish Singh, a bank employee and resident of Tharpakhna, pointed out that the situation would only aggravate once the festivities begin. “Durga Puja will be followed by Laxmi Puja and Diwali. Eateries will mushroom along the road. It will be complete breakdown of traffic law and order. Commuters will have a harrowing time,” he said.
According to guidelines, organisers seek permission from the administration for erecting pandals and agree to the condition of restoring the site (removing scaffoldings, plugging holes, etc.) after the revelry. But, they tweak the bargain a little. They stretch pandals and encroach upon roads with gates and illumination, and justify the violation saying they have a “pandal permit”. It goes without saying that no verification drive is conducted.
If confronted, organisers have excuses ready. “Puja and decorations are for the masses. Who wants to create problems for pedestrians and traffic? But, space is an issue everywhere. We try to occupy the least,” said Sumit Sinha, a member of the Puja committee near Ranchi University.
Krishna Yadav, the president of Mahanagar Puja Samiti — an umbrella body of 130-odd organisers in the capital, offered some hope. “I have identified some pandals encroaching upon roads and have asked organisers to mend their ways. We will conduct an inspection and draw up a list of rogue pandals soon. The committees concerned will be debarred by the Mahanagar Puja Samiti next year,” he promised.
Keeping roads clear during Durga Puja is the job of the district administration. But, while deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey did not pick up his phone, subdivisional magistrate Amit Kumar downplayed the violation.
“During Puja, roads will not choke. The administration won’t allow big vehicles near pandals. One has to tour on foot. So, there should not be a problem,” he said, skirting the real issue.
How should Ranchi deal with pandal encroachment?