Tapati Dutta’s middle-class Mandirtala neighbourhood doesn’t quite know what to make of its new-found status as Mamata Banerjee’s administrative hub.
For more than a month, residents of this locality just across the Hooghly have been seeing signs of a transformation that few of them would have been prepared for when Mamata chose to set up office at the HRBC building there.
“The police visits, the sudden increase in traffic, the no-entry boards and the new parking rules — our area doesn’t feel the same anymore,” said 56-year-old Tapati, who lives opposite the new state secretariat that started functioning on Thursday.
The chief minister won’t be moving in until Saturday — she will occupy the top floor of the 15-storey building renamed Nabanna — but Mandirtala is already a fortress.
Roads where the presence of a police vehicle would raise eyebrows just two months ago now see beacon-fitted cars flitting in and out at frequent intervals. Residents who have been away for some time return to find everything looking so different that they wonder whether they have strayed into some other neighbourhood.
Metro highlights some of the changes that Mandirtala is trying to get used to.
You can’t hide Howrah’s tallest building, but 7.5ft tall fibre sheets atop the boundary walls along the ramps of the Vidyasagar Setu ensure that car and bus passengers passing by can’t take a sneak peek.
“We were asked to fix the fibre sheets above the side walls. They first wanted a smaller shield. Later, they asked us to raise the height to 7.5ft from the top of the side walls,” a worker said.
A senior police officer said the idea was to not only block the view but also prevent someone from hurling anything towards the building from a running vehicle. “Since the new secretariat is in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, these are unavoidable security measures.”
Two constables have been deployed to patrol the ramps to and from Nabanna.
Who’s next door?
The police knocked on Tapati’s door about a month back. She had heard about the police increasing their presence in the area but hadn’t expected the cops to come calling.
“They wanted to know how many of us are there in the family, what they do and where they work. I was relieved when they told me it was a routine check,” Tapati recalled.
The Dutta household wasn’t the only one to have uniformed visitors. “They came to our house and asked whether we have anyone staying in Bangladesh,” said a resident of Khetra Banerjee Lane.
The police said the survey was meant to compile a list of people living in the vicinity of the secretariat as part of a normal security drill.
A parking place for bicycles and motorbikes under the ramp leading to Mandirtala has been shut down. The sudden decision without finding an alternative parking spot for two-wheelers has put people in a fix.
Samiran Pal, who works in a private firm at New Town, used to park his two-wheeler under the ramp every morning before taking a bus from Mandirtala. “This change has affected my daily commute and there is no solution in sight,” he rued.
Many residents said they were being forced to walk long distances since the parking lot was shut down. “Mandirtala is a large neighbourhood where people cycle to the main bus stop, park their two-wheelers there and take buses to their destinations across the city. Many of us now have little option but to walk 20 to 30 minutes every morning and evening. Sometimes, we reach office late,” a commuter said.
New base for babudom
Forty-eight hours before Mamata Banerjee steps into New Writers’ across the Hooghly, Nabanna was buzzing with activity. An army of people was arranging furniture, covering wires, setting flowerpots and fixing nameplates. Employees of several departments took their seats on Thursday. The rest will move in with the chief minister. Some of them walked in on Thursday for a dekko of their cubicles and left. Metro watched from the sidelines
Among the furniture arriving at the new address were sets of sofas meant for the anterooms of senior officers and the waiting lounges. Some of them remained stacked in a corner because the electrical cables in the rooms had not been fitted yet.
The biggest challenge was the cables. “Collectively, if you add up, we would be laying around 750km of wires across
the 15 floors to convert the place into an
IT-enabled building,” said a senior
engineer of the PWD.
The chief minister wants a
dash of green on each floor.
So plants were being arranged along the corridors.
The open terrace outside the chief minister’s office.
On the right lies the Howrah skyline with the old Howrah Bridge at a distance and the Hooghly flowing below. Palm trees line the terrace wall and green lights below set them aglow. The terrace has a glass wall at one end, which streams daylight into the CM’s office. Creepers hang
from the top. Mamata Banerjee will inaugurate
the New Writers’ at 12.30pm, Saturday.
Some of the officials of the
home department found furniture dumped in their new office.
They came, saw, and left.
The lone exception was Musharaff Hussain, the registrar of the land and land reforms department. The man in his late 50s was at his table until 5pm, to get used to the new office. “I’ve been at Writers’ since 1990 and it feels somewhat different out here,” he told Metro. “That feel of the Dalhousie para is missing.”
On every floor, there are private guards. And a private agency to clean the washrooms.
Text and pictures by Kinsuk Basu
A room in Writers’ (left) with the remains of many years left behind. The last to leave? (Right) Contents from the CM’s room packed away in plastic bags.
Pictures by Sanat Kr Sinha