People board a free Book Fair bus on Thursday as a cop keeps watch; (above) a cop hails a taxi for some visitors. (Sayantan Ghosh)
The ordeal of a visit to the Calcutta Book Fair seemed to ease overnight with focused crowd management, more transport options and manpower deployment where there was none until Wednesday.
The change came about after Metro highlighted how people exiting the fairground were being forced to walk a mile and more from the venue to find transport to return home.
On Thursday afternoon, police personnel were spotted guiding visitors to the nearest bus stop and taxi stand. Some even hailed taxis for those who couldn’t find any, while the Book Fair’s inert free bus service was finally in business with three days to go for the close of the event.
Whether inconvenience to the public or Mamata Banerjee’s whiplash on Wednesday evening spurred the Book Fair organisers into action is, of course, anybody’s guess. The chief minister had told her security entourage that “you should be whipped” when they kept her waiting for her car at the Milan Mela exit.
Metro tracks the metamorphosis from chaos to order in 18 hours.
Wednesday: No policemen, volunteers or signage outside gate numbers 3 and 4 meant visitors had little idea which way to go to find transport. Many ended up walking in the wrong direction, only to run into barricades.
Thursday: Five cops were on duty outside gate number 3 and at least eight, including senior officers, at gate number 4. They were telling confused visitors which way to go and how many minutes they would need to walk before finding a bus or taxi. A team of at least 16 cops was stationed between gate numbers 2 and 4.
Wednesday: Barely six buses were in operation to ferry people exiting the Book Fair till Ultadanga at an interval of one hour each.
Thursday: At least 37 buses out of the promised fleet of 50 were in operation, ferrying people from Science City till Park Circus, Bypass till Ultadanga and the Parama crossing till the Ruby connector every 15 to 20 minutes. Cops maintained order at the bus stops.
Bus stop:Science City
Wednesday: Four policemen posted there had ensured that buses and taxis didn’t stop at the crossing to pick up passengers, leaving people to walk till at least the Tangra crossing on one side to find transport.
Thursday: The same set of policemen maintained order at the bus stop, ensuring that everyone queuing up was safely on board. A makeshift taxi stand was set up and policemen were seen hailing taxis for the elderly and women. Cabbies who refused passengers or demanded more were cautioned.
Wednesday: Visitors were forced to walk till at least Mathpukur, around 1.5km from the third exit gate, to reach a cut in the barricade and cross the road. A traffic cop had told a visitor asking for assistance: “You have to walk. Don’t come to the fair if you aren’t ready to walk.”
Thursday: Cops were seen asking people to wait for transport on the service road. One out of every seven buses plying along the Bypass was allowed to enter the service road and pick up passengers. Those looking for taxis too received help. Vacant taxis were allowed to enter the service road, pick up passengers and leave.
Wednesday: Not a policeman in sight and a throng of people confused about which of the four gates to use to reach the bus stop or the Book Fair, depending on whether they were coming or going.
Thursday: Six cops, three each at either end, guided people to the exit or entrance. They even provided bus route numbers to those who asked.
Voice of caution
The crowd count in the last three days could shoot up to 2 lakh from the average weekday figure of 80,000, which means the police would be hard-pressed to maintain order with the same level of deployment.