Armed with a solitary breathalyser and precious little law-enforcing will, the traffic department of Calcutta Police found itself outpaced and outwitted by drunken drivers across the city on New Year’s Eve.
Overturned vehicles on glass-strewn streets greeting Calcuttans on the first morning of 2003 bore testimony to the death of three, injuries to over a dozen and cop failure to slam the brakes on reckless revelry.
In contrast, Delhi Police spent 31st night slapping spot fines of Rs 2,000 at the first whiff of drunken driving.
Sayeed Agni, 21, and Surajit Das, 22, were speeding down Vidyasagar Setu, on their way to Uluberia, around 2.30 am, when the front wheel of their motorcycle came off, sending the two youths flying. Almost at once, a Maruti Omni full of drunken revellers came along, crushed the two under its wheels and sped off. A police patrol team later found the mangled bodies of Agni, son of former Naxal leader Azizul Haque, and Surajit.
At around the same time, a Tata Sumo speeding down the E.M. Bypass, towards Nicco Park, was hit by a Mahindra jeep coming from the opposite direction. Sampat Roy, in the Sumo, died on the spot.
In both instances, there was no police officer in sight. “We had deployed adequate policemen on 31st night, but maybe some lack of planning resulted in people complaining that there were no cops nearby,” said an officer of the traffic department.
Three more accidents occurred on the last night of 2003 — one near the Salt Lake stadium, that left a young couple badly injured, the woman with a fractured jaw and her husband with multiple cuts and bruises. Two other accidents caused by drunken driving, one in Lake Town and the other on Central Avenue, triggered traffic snarls.
Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) M.K. Singh said on Wednesday that his department was trying to get “more breathalysers” to curb drunken driving.
“The traffic department should get at least 10 to 12 per cent of the police budget allocation, but the department here gets only 2 per cent,” grumbled another senior officer.