The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Small turnout, big turmoil

If only the venue for Tuesday's meeting had been the Shahid Minar grounds and not Victoria House. If only police had not just denied permission but also ensured that the 'illegal' meeting didn't paralyse the city centre. If only political parties were less blas' about slamming the brakes on ambulances and school buses on a weekday afternoon.

Thousands left stranded ' from Chittaranjan Avenue to the Park Street flyover ' on Tuesday afternoon could only wonder why they were made victims of yet another political show of strength.

And that, too, a show strength minus much muscle ' no more than 5,000 Congress supporters managed to choke a critical crossroad and the ripple effect caused widespread traffic disruption from north to south.

If the same gathering had, instead, chosen the 'designated' rally site of Shahid Minar 'with the capacity of accommodating 10,000 to 12,000 ' the disruption would have been halved, said police.

'The meeting did not have any police permission. They had given us intimation, but there was no question of allowing a meeting to be held on the main road,' said Anuj Sharma, deputy commissioner of police (headquarters).

According to police officers, the Congress leaders had been specially requested to hold the meeting at Shahid Minar because it was coinciding with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's visit and the high-profile CII Partnership Summit.

'We had told them that the traffic movement in central Calcutta would be paralysed if the venue was not shifted. Had they moved to the Shahid Minar grounds, which is empty all day, motorists and pedestrians would not have suffered so much. But the Congress leaders insisted on this venue,' said a senior officer.

Shahid Minar, along with the traffic-stopper spots of Metro Channel and Rani Rashmoni Avenue, has been cited as a meeting site by the government in a submission before the high court. But the venue in front of Victoria House, home to Mamata Banerjee's annual meet, is not a rally site.

Sitting on the giant stage at the CR Avenue-Bentinck Street crossing, prominent Congress leaders ' Union minister for information and broadcasting Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, former mayor Subrata Mukherjee and MP Adhir Chowdhury ' couldn't care less about the traffic travails of Calcuttans.

Traffic slowed down from noon, when rallies started heading towards Esplanade. Bentinck Street, CR Avenue, SN Banerjee Road, Lenin Sarani, BBD Bag and Jawaharlal Nehru Road were the worst hit, till well into the evening.

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