The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Street sermons summon sneers
- Pedestrians point to overflowing pavements

Kalpana Sett, in her sixties, died last week while crossing a stretch of S.P. Mukherjee Road in front of the Bhowanipore police station. She couldn’t take the help of a zebra crossing, because the nearest one was more than 500 metres away, near Hazra.

Middle-aged Harinath Bhattacharya was more fortunate. Forced off a crowded pavement, on to a busy Chowringhee, he survived the ordeal and pointed to the pavement overrun by hawkers: “Why don't you tell the cops to clear the pavement before asking pedestrians to use it'"

For some, this is Calcutta throwing up yet another excuse to right a wrong — in this case, jaywalking. But for once, there is a case to crib if one is at the crossroads — from the missing zebra stripes (as rare in Calcutta as the animal they derive their name from) to hawkers and vagrants pushing pedestrians off the pavement.

Ask Sanjay Sett, who lost his mother (Kalpana) to the Calcutta traffic. “What do you expect us to do' Walk nearly a kilometre south to Hazra (where there is a zebra crossing) and then walk the same distance north if we want to cross the road in front of Bhowanipore police station'”

Another Calcuttan who died around the same time was 80-year-old Narottam Sahu, of Kidderpore, crushed under wheels on Strand Bank Road. “Why pester us with all this nonsense about zebra crossings'” shot back grandson Amit. “Show us a zebra crossing within a kilometre of where my grandfather died.” Road reality: the distance between two ‘zebras’ on Strand Bank Road — between Prinsep Ghat and Eden Gardens — would be, at the least, a kilometre.

Both families are struggling to come to terms with the loss. But what still emerges is the sneer at the sermons religiously handed out during every road-safety week and the anger over the cop verdict that the victims were guilty of flouting road rules.

How can the police talk about rules, ask the bereaved, when

- There are hardly any zebra crossings in sight

- Footpaths of most thoroughfares, from Gariahat Road to Chowringhee Road, are house to hawkers or the homeless, forcing pedestrians on to the street

- So many stretches do not have pavements at all.

The law-enforcers, however, complain that hawkers are back on the pavements as part of the government’s “policy”, which keeps the police with their hands tied. Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) M.K. Singh says he will identify stretches where it is almost impossible to find a foothold on the footpath, and write to his colleagues in the relevant areas to clear the path for the pedestrians.

Singh, however, is quick to add that the all this did not mean that pedestrians should flout every road-rule in the book. “If people stick to the rules in areas where there is every opportunity to follow them instead of picking holes in the system, the number of accidents will definitely come down,” claims Singh.

But with the price for being caught jaywalking just Rs 50 and the present process being tedious to the point of being impractical (an offender must be taken to a local police station where the case is lodged and the bail obtained), how can this wrong possibly be set right'

City police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty says he has written to the government to amend the jaywalking laws to allow on-the-spot fines. “We have to launch a simultaneous drive to educate pedestrians,’’ concludes the top cop.

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