Putting up barriers on roads and (above) allowing pedestrians to cross only at designated points kept vehicles moving on the city roads during Puja. (Amit Datta)
Calcutta police’s smooth traffic management during Puja has left many wondering why the cops cannot do so throughout the year. Metro tries to find the answer as the city slips back to the days of snarls and chaos on the road.
Puja experience: Wheels rolled across Calcutta during Puja largely because discipline was enforced on pedestrians. On the important roads, the police did not allow people to cross indiscriminately — as is the custom throughout the year. Instead, pedestrians could cross the road only at specific points and specific times. Barricades and ropes acted as barriers and heavy police presence ensured that violators were few.
“Across most arteries, including Tollygunge Circular Road, Chetla Road, Deshapran Sashmal Road and the Rashbehari connector, this contributed a great deal to our success in managing traffic,” said a senior officer.
According to insiders, pedestrians could be disciplined because of close co-ordination between the traffic police and the men in uniform from the local police stations maintaining law and order. Specific instructions were given to the cops before Puja, clearly explaining their roles. The effect was visible across the city, including on chaotic stretches such as Diamond Harbour Road, James Long Sarani and Narkeldanga Main Road.
Possibility of replication: The police are certain that keeping pedestrians off the carriageways as much as possible will go a long way in improving traffic flow in the city but doubt that can be done. “The number of cops deployed for Puja duty will not be available for traffic management on a normal day but if they were then there would have been few snarls in the city,” said an officer.
Reality check: Calcutta Traffic Police do not have the manpower to stop pedestrians from crossing important roads wherever they want round the year. “But the traffic police can take the help of police stations to do this on certain stretches and improve traffic flow,” admitted a senior officer. But the co-ordination needed for that has not been seen beyond the festive days.
Puja experience: If pedestrians could walk on the footpaths, it was because hawkers were not encroaching them. According to an estimate, the city has 2.75 lakh hawkers who force pedestrians to walk along the carriageway, reducing the space available to vehicles.
Ahead of the festival, the divisional commissioners of police were asked to remove hawkers and other obstructions like banners and hoardings from important intersections. Pedestrians breathed easy as a result.
“Hawkers account for nearly 60 per cent of the traffic problems in the city,” said an officer of South East Traffic Guard.
Possibility of replication: There have been attempts to decongest pavements along main thoroughfares, but without lasting results, in the absence of a consensus among political parties.
“If the politicians allow at least some stretches to be kept free of hawkers, the city’s traffic movement will improve remarkably,” said a senior traffic officer.
The stretches on the wish list of traffic cops: Gariahat crossing, between Girish Park and Mahajati Sadan on Central Avenue, near The Oberoi Grand on JL Nehru Road, near Janbazar on SN Banerjee Road, near Sealdah on APC Road and near Behala tram depot on Diamond Harbour Road.
Reality check: Hawkers allege that they not only pay politicians but cops to encroach footpaths, something that the police have always dismissed. If the cops want, they can stop the hawkers from taking over entire footpaths.
The state government has tried offering hawkers carts so that they do not occupy the entire width of a footpath but the effort has been a half-hearted one.
Puja experience: Autorickshaws were diverted from some important roads like Rashbehari connector, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Raja SC Mullick Road, Park Circus connector and Aurobindo Sarani. On a few stretches, such as Diamond Harbour Road and Bansdroni Government Colony Road and the Roy Nagar-Naskar Para Road and Kankurgachhi crossings, the auto stands were shifted.
“The role of autos in impeding traffic flow was taken into account stretch by stretch while drawing up the traffic plan and their movement was restricted wherever needed,” said an officer.
Possibility of replication: “We have repeatedly said that autos need to move along fixed routes and should not cross main thoroughfares, but in vain. Unless there is a specific directive from the court, it is not possible for us to divert autos indefinitely,” said a senior traffic officer at Lalbazar.
Reality check: Insiders in the transport department said the issue of restricting autos on main thoroughfares was raised during a meeting of auto operators with transport minister Madan Mitra.
“There was a tremendous protest from 20,000-plus auto operators who said it would threaten their livelihood. The matter was eventually dropped,” said an official.