One million and counting, with the vague prospects of a plan and a prayer on the lips.
Alarmed at the vehicular population in Calcutta crossing the dreaded mark ' over three times higher than capacity ' the government is planning to take a leaf out of the Bangalore and Chennai traffic management books to ensure that the city does not come to a standstill.
'We have decided to evolve a new strategy on transport and traffic management in the city in consultation with urban planners, planning institutions and even some urban planners from Singapore. We also intend to send our officers to Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai to study traffic management,' said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.
In August 2004, the number of vehicles plying in and around the city touched the 10.6 lakh figure.
Bangalore and Chennai are the obvious classrooms for their efficacy in curbing chaos, despite a spiralling car count.
'The governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have adopted some stringent measures to control traffic and transportation and we are lagging behind,' admitted transport department officials.
Karnataka transport minister Mallikarjun Kharge gave Metro a glimpse of the success story. 'The number of vehicles in Bangalore has crossed the two-million mark and the count is still going up. But we have been successful in keeping the city free from traffic congestion as we have adopted a series of steps to maintain speedy vehicular movement,' he said.
'Motor vehicle rules have been strictly enforced in the city and a major thrust has been given to the construction of new roads beyond city limits to reduce the traffic load on Bangalore,' added Kharge.
R. Viswanathan, transport minister of Tamil Nadu, took the same fast track: 'We have kept the city free from congestion despite a sharp rise in the vehicular population by imposing restrictions on issuing of permits and movement of vehicles in Chennai.'
He added: We have also taken some specific steps to decongest Chennai in order to reduce traffic load,' he explained.
Calcutta traffic has become a case study for institutions, too. 'The average vehicular speed in Calcutta has come down to eight to nine kph, with most of the roads remaining congested throughout the day. City traffic will come to a standstill if immediate steps are not taken,' warned Asesh Maitra, director of School of Planing and Architecture, New Delhi.
Institute of Town Planning of India secretary-general Pradip Kapoor called for an improvement in the public transport system as a pre-requisite for smooth traffic movement.
Back home, member-secretary of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board Shyamal Sarkar expressed concern over 'the level of emission steadily increasing due to a rise in the number of vehicles'.