|A view of Nabanna from Vidyasagar Setu
|Trident lights in front of the corporation building
|Potholes on East-West Road
|Garbage dumped on Netaji Subhas Road. Pictures by Anup Bhattacharya and Gopal Senapati
Howrah has, more often than not, made news for the wrong reasons — a gruesome murder, a devastating fire, a daring robbery or a breakdown of civic infrastructure. But with chief minister Mamata Banerjee choosing Howrah as the new seat of power for her government, things may be looking up. Is Howrah on a road to resurgence?
Despair to hope & back
The car crawls along Howrah Bridge but the frustration of negotiating the bumper-to-bumper traffic all but vanishes on reaching a surprisingly empty Howrah station. The air fills with the familiar announcements on the public address system and people scurry about with the usual sense of urgency but gone is the chaos of hawkers selling everything from fruits to faux leather bags and taxi touts haggling with travel-weary passengers. There are no buses clogging the way or rice hotels encroaching the road space either. Not everything is spick and span yet but the place seems calmer and more orderly than before.
The relief is only temporary as commuters are greeted by the nauseating stench of garbage, dumped by wholesalers at the vegetable market right below Bankim Setu, mingled with the smell of raw fish from the wholesale fish market a little further away. A shrill cry pierces the air as a flock of eagles and vultures circle the sky.
Welcome to Howrah!
Unlike Howrah Bridge, traffic moves swiftly through Bankim Setu right up to the DM’s Bungalow even on a weekday. The traffic flow has improved ever since the Howrah Police Commissionerate took charge of it in November 2011, say local residents.
We reach our destination — the office of the Howrah Municipal Corporation (HMC) — a little before 2.30pm. Minutes later, mayor Rathin Chakraborty walks in — a stark contrast to former mayor Mamata Jaiswal, who would seldom be in office even as late as 5pm. As a string of visitors make a beeline for the mayor’s office, the divisional engineer of the water supply department asks for a fortnight’s leave, only to be refused. “All leaves have been cancelled,” declares the mayor. A practising homoeopath, Chakraborty himself has had to skip international conferences, under the chief minister’s orders, to attend to work at hand.
“The chief minister wants to change the face of Howrah. She has given us three months to bring about that change,” said the mayor, who took charge on December 11 after a landslide victory for Trinamul Congress, with 42 of 50 seats.
With urban development minister Firhad Hakim having sanctioned Rs 100 crore for Howrah and promising another Rs 40 crore, the mayor has drawn up a list of development projects to be taken up on a war footing.
Work in progress
Octogenarian Ramkrishna Ghosh Mandal, a resident of Panchanantala Road for over four decades, has been witness to the gradual decline of Howrah. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and determination to set the ills right. But the new mayor gives me hope. He has been active so far,” said the homoeopath who runs a charitable clinic from his home.
The mayor himself has sought time. “For over 30 years, Howrah has been neglected. It’s time it got its due. I will try and undo some of it but I need time,” said Chakraborty, who scored with a single gesture barely a month after assuming office. A pipe had burst on Belilious Road and no municipal worker had reached the spot till midday. Chakraborty himself rushed to the spot, called the engineers and supervised the repair till late at night.
“Howrah has always been neglected. Even though it’s much older than its sibling across the river, even though it generated more revenue as an industrial hub, it was always Calcutta that was the tilottoma (beauty),” rued Sankar Sanyal, the president of the Howrah Chamber of Commerce and Industries. Sanyal is hopeful that chief minister Mamata Banerjee will make amends. “She wants to bring Howrah to the forefront again. She shifted out of Writers’ to come to Nabanna. She could have easily chosen Salt Lake. There are talks of having a secretariat building here. An annex of the Assembly will also be located here,” he said. On his wish list is a road parallel to GT Road that will connect north and south Howrah.
Nabanna alone can’t turn things around for Howrah, said actor Rudranil Ghosh, who has his ancestral home in Jagachha and is a frequent visitor to the city across the river. “Nabanna is a very attractive building. The roads leading to and from Nabanna are clear and wide, the drains clear, the place has been spruced up. But less than 10km away, roads are broken and perennially flooded, there are no health services. I would like our political guardians to beautify all of Howrah like the area around Nabanna.”
Artist Nikhilesh Das, a veteran Leftist who has lived in central Howrah all his life, is not too hopeful. “It’s difficult to change Howrah. It’s too steeped in corruption, mismanagement, decay and failure. The downfall started with flight of industry. There are lockouts in all big factories. It’s economically impoverished.”
10 TASKS AT HAND
• Map of waterlogged areas and a comprehensive survey report on drains and sewerage. Desiltation before monsoon
• Three flyovers — Salkia Chowrasta, Kamardanga and Ramrajatala — for smooth movement of traffic
• Control room in hospitals
• Compactor to be used in Belgachhia trenching ground
• Parks and waterbodies, including Santragachhi Jheel, to be preserved and beautified
• Burning ghats to be renovated
• Corporation-run schools that are closed for want of students will be turned into music school, art and craft school and schools for physically challenged children
• Sarat Sadan will be turned into another Nandan
• Water supply to start from 11.30am instead of noon
• 48 roads in Howrah town to be renovated at Rs10.8 crore
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