Pictures, they say, never lie. And if the camera happens to be trained on the jaunty jaywalker on the city streets, the results can either resemble a rogues’ gallery or, on a sympathetic note, a frieze of Calcuttans caught at the crossroads, where the sole system seems to be the lack of it.
Take a look at the tall young man caught on camera near a Park Street crossing on April 10 at 3 pm. He is Satyen Mukherjee of Behala “I am getting late for an interview at Apeejay House,” he shrugged, when asked why he was flouting road rules.
Wasn’t he risking his life, zig-zagging through the traffic' “Yes, I am aware of that, but what to do' My interview is more important and I know the drivers will slow down to let me cross over safely,” said Mukherjee.
But was he aware that he could be hauled up for jaywalking, taken to the local police station and slapped with a fine' This time, Mukherjee laughed out loud: “No way”.
Here are a few facts and figures for you, Mr Mukherjee, and all us pedestrians in peril — the jaywalking death toll in 2000 was 376; in 2001, 402; in 2002, 412. If picked up for jaywalking, one can be taken to the local police station, where a fine of Rs 50 must be paid through a law clerk for bail.
The septuagenarian at the Gariahat crossing had never heard of such punitive measures even existing on paper. He coolly crossed one flank of Rashbehari Avenue exactly where he shouldn’t have, only to find a two-ft-high road divider, along the tram-track, blocking his path.
Exercising his right of the road, the elderly man kept walking along the track, with a tram respectfully in tow.
As traffic constables watched in horror from a distance, the tram driver rang the bell to let the pedestrian know whose track he was on. But with cars whizzing by to his left, and the divider to his right, the man could do little but stay on track till he could finally cross over.
Reluctant to explain his mid-traffic moves, the elderly man shot back: “Who follows rules in Calcutta'”
Point taken. Ask Sangeeta Sen, forced off a crowded Gariahat pavement, why and get an earful: “What do you expect us to do, run round in circles looking for a zebra crossing' It is better to zig-zag through a few vehicles.”
And the fear of the fine is either forgotten or a farce. “We don’t have the manpower to control jaywalking on every street. Moreover, going by the rulebook, a person caught for such an act has to be taken to the police station where he must pay a spot fine. How can a traffic policeman abandon his post and take jaywalkers to the police station'’’ demands deputy commissioner of police, traffic, M.K. Singh.
In the same stride, Singh warns that 80 per cent of accident-related deaths in the city can be blamed on just jaywalking.