Calcutta police thought they had it covered with a Puja duty roster starting Panchami, only to be caught unawares by a festival rush on the streets a day earlier this time.
Shoppers and a surge of early pandal-hoppers mingled with the weekday office crowd on Thursday to throw the police’s plans haywire from north to south.
At 2pm, which the police consider a “lean period” for traffic, it took Subhasree Basu an hour and 40 minutes to reach New Market from Jadavpur, a distance of about 9km.
“Today, my journey seemed endless,” said Subhasree, browsing through books in the Grand Hotel arcade after what she said was her “last round of shopping”.
By 4pm, when the peak period starts according to the police, traffic in the city went for a toss. “Puja hasn’t begun and the roads are already a mess. If this is how it looks today, I shudder to think what the roads will turn into tomorrow,” said Chandan Bag, stuck in a snarl near Chandni Chowk on his way home.
The police brass had worked out a traffic management schedule with additional deployment from Friday onwards, based on last year’s experience when Panchami saw the Puja crowd hitting the streets in full force. Next year might see Lalbazar start another day earlier.
“We did not expect such crowds on Chaturthi. People obviously no longer wait for Puja to actually begin on Sashthi. They start visiting pandals the moment these are inaugurated. But we certainly didn’t expect Thursday to be chaotic,” a senior traffic officer said.
There are 2,500-odd pandals in town this year with most of the big-ticket destinations being inaugurated by Thursday evening. “Earlier, inaugurations would start on Chaturthi but this year it’s from Dwitiya (the second day after Mahalaya),” chief minister Mamata Banerjee had quipped while inaugurating the 95 Pally puja at Jodhpur Park on Wednesday.
Mamata inaugurated more than 24 pandals by Thursday evening and almost all of them drew big crowds, contributing to the traffic chaos that the cops weren’t prepared for.
Dorina Crossing, where at least 12 policemen are posted every day, had only two constables, two volunteers and a traffic sergeant on Thursday afternoon. “Some of my colleagues have taken the day off. Two of them have gone for shopping. Today is the last day before Puja they can be with their families,” said a constable.
Deputy commissioner (traffic) Dilip Adak said: “Tomorrow onwards, our entire force along with NCC cadets and volunteers will be on duty.”
Around 1,800 volunteers have been requisitioned.