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Crushed at crossroads: road rules

A narrow bustling road where traffic from four directions merge. Autorickshaws are parked illegally along the way. Buses stop at will, anywhere. Passengers — even mothers tugging young kids — board or get off moving buses. Policemen catch 40 winks rather than offending vehicles.

The perilous stretch is on the Mahabirtala crossing at the New Alipore end of Tollygunge bridge, where two traffic-heavy south Calcutta arteries — Tollygunge Circular Road and BL Shah Road — intersect.

This is where a private bus crushed homemaker Madhumita Halder’s left leg after she fell off the vehicle’s footboard on Wednesday afternoon.

Metro walked through the place on Thursday and found after several heart-thumping moments that Halder’s horrific accident had no impact on the conduct of the people, the policemen and the bus drivers.

Bully buses

Buses are not supposed to stop at the crossing and a Calcutta police signage says as much: Ekhane bus thamibe na (Buses will not stop here). Bus drivers brazenly ignore the sign and stop right in front of it to pick or drop passengers.

Halder and her daughter Reema were getting off one such bus when the accident happened. When the driver saw another bus from the same route approaching, he released the clutch and the vehicle started moving.

Halder slipped and fell down. Her left leg came under the rear wheel of a packed 12-tonne bus.

She is currently battling for life at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital.

Bus operators blame the passengers. “They force us to stop the bus right at the crossing. If we don’t stop, many people jump off moving buses. They also abuse us for not stopping at the crossing,” said a driver of route 37 as he braked to drop a few passengers right next to the no-stop sign.

Pushy passengers

The bus operators’ allegation may be exaggerated but not baseless.

Metro stood at the crossing for close to 30 minutes on Thursday afternoon to prove the bus drivers wrong. Instead, they stand vindicated because several passengers alighted from moving buses at the approach to the crossing on Tollygunge bridge. Many waited right in the middle of the road, leaving bus drivers with little choice but to stop.

A woman was heard abusing an auto driver for stopping a few metres ahead of the crossing.

“Why would I walk back the distance (to reach her house which was close to the intersection)? When I am paying for the trip, the driver should drop me at the place where I want him to,” shouted the woman in her mid-40s, unwilling to reveal her name.

Other passengers had similar excuses. “The bus stop is 80m down west (towards New Alipore) from the crossing. So we stand near the crossing to board buses,” said Sukumar Banik of Brickfield Road, around 100m down north (towards BL Shah Road).

Sleeping police

The police kiosk near the crossing has two policemen stationed all the time. Their responsibility includes preventing buses from stopping at the crossing and to keep the road clear of illegally parked vehicles.

The policemen on duty on Thursday afternoon were ensconced inside the kiosk — one reading a newspaper and the other taking a quick siesta. Buses stopped right in front of the kiosk at will. No one winked.

A short stumble from the crossing, auto drivers from the Behala-Rabindra Sarobar Metro route park their vehicles to pick passengers. They have turned the spot into an unofficial auto stand.

The lone green policeman was too hamstrung to catch offenders and manage traffic at the same time.

“This is a vulnerable area. We had tried several times to prevent bus drivers from stopping at the crossing but they don’t listen. In fact, the drivers as well as residents of the area had threatened us,” said an officer of New Alipore police station.