The railing of the culvert the Tata Sumo had crashed into early on Saturday. (Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya)
The rule of the road on the unmanned EM Bypass after midnight is: bypass all rules.
Calcutta police have admitted that there is little they can do to make the Bypass safer for traffic post-midnight unless they are given more manpower to rein in the speed demons. One such killer stretch is the 6km one from the Narkeldanga crossing to the Parama rotary, where a pool-car accident early on Saturday claimed four call centre employees.
A senior officer confirmed that the stretch, which is under the jurisdiction of Beleghata traffic guard, would be unguarded on most nights.
“There are as many as six intersections along that stretch but where do we find the manpower to deploy cops at each crossing through the night? We have 100 constables working in three shifts, 45 home guards and just 11 sergeants, which is skeletal manpower at best for an area that includes most of Phoolbagan, Beleghata and Narkeldanga,” he said.
The normal working hours of the traffic police department are 6am to 11pm. “We try to maintain skeletal deployment till at least 12pm. Luck sees us through the rest of the night,” a sergeant said.
Between 11pm and 6am, the Bypass is supposed to be manned by personnel from four police stations — Tiljala, East Jadavpur, Beleghata and Kasba. But all these police stations are apparently as understaffed as the traffic department.
“Besides manning the 21km Bypass, we also have to keep vigil on other areas under our jurisdiction. We don’t have enough personnel for deployment on the Bypass through the night,” an officer of Tiljala police station said.
With elections round the corner, road vigilance has been all but left on autopilot as the cops get busy completing poll-related tasks. “Election time is an extremely busy period for us. We have been asked to identify and round up trouble-mongers, step up other preventive arrests and execute non-bailable warrants,” the officer said.
So won’t road policing be strengthened even after four deaths in a single accident?
Officers of all four police stations on the post-midnight Bypass beat said their teams were struggling to conduct night patrolling on a regular basis without adequate manpower.
“Personnel on duty at night do try to curb drink driving by conducting random checks at specific points. But given our staff shortage, coupled with the burden of election duty, it is not possible to focus on the speed corridor as we should,” the officer said.
Even if special night patrolling is conducted on certain days, it rarely stretches beyond 3am. One such patrol team returned to base at 2.30am on Saturday, two hours before the Tata Sumo accident that took four young lives.
“Our staff need rest, just as everyone else does,” the Tiljala officer said.