| The idol at Deodar Street Balak Sangha
For Manash Chatterjee and family (name changed on request) of Dover Road, Durga puja evenings are meant to be spent indoors — by compulsion, not choice. The cause of their confinement is the popular Singhi Park puja pandal blocking the road leading to their door. “Last year, a police officer had stopped me a block away from my house and asked me to produce either my voter ID or ration card as proof of my address,” recounts Manash. “It was no different this time and so we decided not to venture out after dark.”
Sharmila Roy, staying next to the high profile Srishti and Sahajatri pujas in Behala, had her own horror story to narrate: “My 70-year-old father-in-law was asked to stand in the serpentine pandal queue while returning home from a neighbourhood shop.”
A doctor of Ballygunge Circular Road was a victim of the insensitivity of the Pujas, when he fell ill but there was no way he could call a car — forget an ambulance — to his door without dismantling the pandal dwarfing his building.
Thousand of others suffer silently during the festive days every year due to roads blocked by pandals. And now there are some figures to back their frustrations.
Environment Governed Integrated Organisation (EnGIO), a city-based non-government unit, and Stesalit Infotech Limited carried out a survey in 15 wards of south Calcutta during the Pujas and found seven out of every 10 pandals in the zone erected either by fully or partially blocking the roads.
“We have carried out the survey in areas like Bhowanipore, Hazra, Kalighat, Lake Market, Gariahat, Dhakuria and Behala in the southern part of the city. Out of the 181 pujas mapped, 65 were found to block the roads totally while another 63 showed partial blocking,” said Bedashruti Sadhukhan, EnGIO field supervisor.
“Besides mapping the extent of roadblock, the pandals were divided into crowd-pulling categories of big, medium and small as the combination of encroachment and footfall compounds the problem,” observed Suman and Sukanya of the survey team. The researchers who confined their efforts to the south feel the situation could be worse in north Calcutta where the roads are fewer and narrower.
“The situation was critical at more than one-sixth of the pujas surveyed. Overall, three wards (68, 89, 87) were categorised ‘very poor’ as 80 to 90 per cent of the pujas there had blocked traffic either fully or partially. Another seven wards (91, 92, 85, 72, 84, 73 and 70), with more than 50 per cent blockage, were put under the ‘poor’ category,” explained Koushik Bhattacharya of Stesalit, analysing the data on Geographical Information System (GIS).
With roadspace in the city less than in most other metros, what does such a survey hope to achieve' “Keeping in mind the limited open spaces in the city, it is understandable that some pandals will have to be allowed on thoroughfares. But the idea behind this study is to find out ways to minimise the problem and ensure a smooth passage for people, especially local residents,” said Bhattacharya.
Through a GIS study, a proposal for reorganising a few pujas at least can be worked out. “Some potential puja points can be identified and others that cause maximum inconvenience can be shifted,” said members of the EnGIO-Stesalit team. “The results will be presented to the authorities.”