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Principals protest Howrah road horror

Several heads of schools led a three-hour blockade of GT Road on Tuesday in protest against the humongous craters that threaten the safety of thousands of children who take the thoroughfare every day.

Roadblocks to protest potholes are not unheard of at this time of the year, but school principals joining in to try and force an apathetic administration into action marks a first. The protesters included the principal of Don Bosco Liluah.

A 500-metre stretch around a kilometre south of Belur Math, off GT Road, is dotted with several schools, including Don Bosco, MC Kejriwal Vidyapeeth and Agrasain Balika Siksha Sadan. For the 20,000 students spread across 13 institutions in the area, GT Road is part of their regular route to and from school.

Alarmed parents and school authorities said the thoroughfare had gone from bone-rattling bumpy to downright dangerous over the past fortnight. One portion of a 600-metre stretch has a succession of craters that no driver or motorbike rider can avoid. The largest of the craters is over a foot deep, eight feet in width and 15 feet long. When it rains, the ride gets worse.

About 10ft of the road width along a 2km stretch is being turned into a concrete section where iron rods jut out dangerously from the sides.

Students often have little choice but to get off cars, buses and motorbikes far ahead of their destination and labour through slush to reach their campuses. It’s an almost daily ordeal that moved Brother Jose Puthenpurackel, the principal of Don Bosco Liluah, and several counterparts to hit the road in protest on Tuesday. The agitation lasted from 9am till noon.

“We were on the road with just one agenda: it has to be repaired. We wanted an assurance from the authorities that the road would be repaired by Wednesday evening. We are worried about the safety of our students,” Puthenpurackel said. “If a three or four-year-old were to fall into a crater, he or she would almost drown.”

On Monday, the father of a student of Don Bosco Liluah didn’t dare cross a large crater near the Agrasain crossing on his motorbike with his seven-year-old son riding pillion. “I feared losing balance and my son getting injured. I took him back home and wrote a letter to the principal, saying he wouldn’t be able to attend classes for an indefinite period. The principal, of course, told me that this wasn’t the solution,” said R. Chowdhury, who lives along Liluah Station Road.

Parents like him finally decided to block GT Road and requested the principals to join them.

Traffic came to a standstill till the Salkia four-point crossing between 9am and noon.

“The authorities need to rise from slumber. Are they waiting for a student to fall and die?” a parent demanded to know.

Schools have had students coming late — and some with cuts and bruises caused by accidents — almost every day. “Parents become tense thinking whether their children have reached school safely or not. Because of the traffic, students often get off vehicles and walk,” said H.K. Srivastava, principal of Agrasain Balika Siksha Sadan.

Ekta Awasthi, who teaches at MC Kejriwal Vidyapeeth, has been forced to start early to reach the school. “It takes me an hour by car to cover a distance that used to be a 15-minute drive,” she said.

The public works department (PWD) started patchwork on the damaged stretch on Tuesday evening, apparently after a prod from the district magistrate’s office. Engineers of the department said they hadn’t realised how deep the craters were until work started.

“Since the drains are clogged, waste spills over and fills the craters. Had we known the craters were so deep, we would have repaired the road earlier,” said Arup Mukherjee, executive engineer of the PWD’s Howrah division.

Officials promised that the patchwork would be completed in a day or two and the other half of the road would be fully concrete in two weeks.