The garage (black gates) and the narrow lane where the accident took place. Picture by Jahid Mohammad
Calcutta, Oct. 5: An eight-year-old boy on his way back from school was crushed to death in Lake Town around noon today when a university student reversed a car in a narrow lane while trying to park it in her home garage.
The tragedy, waiting to happen in a city with roads and habits that have not kept pace with the ballooning motoring population, blows the lid off some ugly home truths Calcutta has been brushing under the carpet.
The driving lessons in the city are wholly inadequate and little attention is paid to instilling road discipline or safety measures.
The driving tests are worse. Licences are mostly rubber-stamped after perfunctory road tests in which many consider themselves lucky if they get to drive even 500 metres.
The reverse gear is hardly ever touched during a test. Many are left to learn the skills of parking and backing-up in the lanes running along their houses.
Only a police investigation will establish what caused the accident around 11.30am in front of the boy’s father, who was leading the child by hand but eased the grip probably because of the safety guaranteed by the residential lane.
The boy has been identified as Shubham, son of Anand Sharma, an electrician, and Jyoti Sharma, who live in a slum than 200 metres away.
The 22-year-old university student has been arrested and charged under a law that can send her to jail for 10 years if found guilty.
Shreya Sarbadhikary, a postgraduate student of mass communication and journalism at Calcutta University, had taken the key from her driver after a shopping trip and was trying to park the small car – Chevrolet Spark.
Shreya, the daughter of a chartered accountant, has been holding a driving licence for the past two years. But the police quoted her as saying she rarely sat at the wheel.
Preliminary reports suggested that Shreya was moving the car forward and backward multiple times – a manoeuvre seen frequently in Calcutta and prone to risk because drivers tend to take their eyes off the rear-view mirror after a few attempts and focus on squeezing the car into the available space without scrapes or dents.
The boy was hit twice when he tried to squeeze through between the car and a wall while Shreya was trying to take the car into the garage. After the boy was struck first, the car advanced towards the garage but moved back and crushed him.
“The girl was trying to park the car inside the garage in her three-storey house. Since the road is barely 9 feet wide, she had to move the car forward and backward several times to create space when the boy tried to pass by. It appears she did not notice the boy,” said an officer of Lake Town police station.
One of Shreya’s neighbours described how difficult it was to negotiate the lane. “I had faced the same problem while parking my car or taking it out from the garage. It is such a narrow road. I now park my car in a different place where I have taken a garage on rent,” said Manab Ghosh, who lives next to the Sarbadhikarys, close to Daffodil nursing home.
The death of the boy ignited a furore among residents of the near-by slum, who damaged the car. The police took the girl and her mother to the station. Trinamul MLA Sujit Bose reached the site and went to the police station.
“Shreya was booked under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 279 (driving rashly and negligently as to endanger human life) and Section 184 of the Motor Vehicles Act (rash driving),” said an officer. Shreya will be produced in court on Sunday.
An officer said the accident underscored the inadequacies of driving schools as well as testing centres. “Most people learn the finer aspects of driving, like applying the reverse gear, while practising with their own cars. Many schools merely teach how to use the accelerator and brake,” he said.
A 23-year-old youth who recently underwent the test at Beltala said: “They never asked me to apply the reverse gear or drive in a narrow road. The officials from the driving school were so influential that the test was just a formality.”