More than 6,000 pharmacists feeling threatened by fair-price drugstores in a few government hospitals held traffic hostage in the heart of the city for four hours on Monday, some chanting unapologetically: “If Mamata Banerjee can do it, why can’t we?”
“The chief minister herself organised a meeting at the Metro Channel last Saturday. So why is it wrong if we do the same?” demanded pharmacist Milan Chakraborty, referring to the chief minister’s traffic-choker rally against diesel-price decontrol and FDI in retail.
Apart from protesting the government’s decision to set up fair-price drugstores in state-run health care facilities, the Bengal Chemists and Druggists’ Association was pressing for the withdrawal of taxes on medicines and a reduction in the MRP of various drugs.
The pharmacists’ contention that it was all for the greater good — again echoing Mamata — rang hollow when patients stranded along seven blocked thoroughfares bore the brunt of their siege to Rani Rashmoni Avenue from 12pm.
The head count at the chief minister’s Metro Channel rally had been barely a third of Monday’s turnout but the impact on traffic was similar. Monday being the first working day of the week, more people suffered.
“My mother-in-law has respiratory distress and her doctor has advised us to admit her to SSKM Hospital. But we have been stuck in this snarl for over 15 minutes already. How can the police allow a meeting at the city centre on a Monday? It’s pathetic,” said Reba Halder, craning her neck out of the car window to check if anything was moving.
Her torment seemed to matter little to the protesters in a city where anarchy has become the name of the game and the ruling party is leading from the front. If it was a group of pharmacists today, it will be the Bangiya Krishtiya Parishad tomorrow and an NGO the day after. Even the Animal Lovers’ Association has lined up a potential traffic-choker at the city centre next weekend (see chart).
“We had never felt the need to organise such a big rally in the heart of the city before. Of course, that also had to do with doubts about whether we would get permission to do so. But now with even small organisations holding their meetings at the city centre, we are thinking of celebrating our foundation day there from now on,” declared J.S. Shinde, president of the national chapter of the druggists’ association.
Monday’s traffic scrum included CR Avenue, AJC Bose Road, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Brabourne Road, Mayo Road, APC Road and SN Banerjee Road, the car crawl beginning at 11am as the pharmacists made their way to the protest pitch from Howrah, Sealdah, Park Circus, Bhowanipore and Kidderpore.
The organisers blamed the police for the inconvenience caused to commuters, saying the rally had been originally slated for Saturday but Lalbazar played foul.
“We received a call on January 17 saying that our permission had been cancelled as President Pranab Mukherjee was in town. But we all know the real reason behind the cancellation. Later, they advised us to hold it on Monday,” said Tushar Chakraborty, the general secretary of the association.
The police claimed that the rally did not cause much disruption. “The group was very organised and did not squat on the road or damage public or private property on their way to the venue. We carried out the necessary traffic diversions, as and when needed. So the gathering did not impact traffic flow much,” a senior traffic officer said.
Try convincing the thousands of commuters caught in the chaos. “I got off my taxi on Sealdah bridge around 11.45pm after being stranded there for over 30 minutes. There was a long procession from Sealdah station and CIT Road that blocked the Moulali crossing. I preferred to walk till my office on Bentinck Street,” said Praveen Gupta, a resident of Maniktala.
Pool cars from St. James’ and Calcutta Boys and buses from Mahadevi Birla World Academy and Apeejay Park Street headed north were delayed by the snarls.
And the week of traffic-choker rallies has only just begun.