| Commuters struggle to manoeuvre the Mahatma Gandhi Setu on Tuesday. Pictures by Sachin |
Police officers pulled up their socks on Wednesday and strictly enforced traffic regulations on the Mahatma Gandhi Setu after a 72-hour snarl hit the lifeline between north Bihar and Patna.
Heavy vehicles were not allowed on the bridge during the prohibited hours (between 8am and 11am, and from 4pm-7pm) and drivers were also not allowed to overtake others. These are perennial cause for traffic woes on the 5.575km long bridge.
For commuters and other passengers coming to the city from north Bihar and vice-versa, it was a dream come true after the horror of the 72-hour traffic snarl. The district police and traffic personnel were more vigilant than before under strict instructions from director-general of police (DGP) Abhayanand.
Recalling Tuesday’s nightmare, Gai Ghat resident Sweta Kumari said: “For the past three days, crossing the bridge was a nightmare. On Tuesday, I was stuck at a spot near the Hajipur check post for over three hours. It took us more than four hours to reach Patna from Hajipur.”
Sweta is a schoolteacher and has to travel between Gai Ghat (Patna) and Mahua (Vaishali) daily.
Bank employee R.L. Das was more vocal than Sweta. Posted in a nationalised bank in Samastipur, 100km from Patna, Das said: “Many office-goers like me had to return home halfway on Tuesday. Had I not returned, I would have reached office at a time when it would have been closed for the day. I had to take a casual leave for any reason. The return journey was no less painful, as the road was chock-a-block. I was stuck in middle of the bridge and had to finally call my son who came on a two-wheeler to take me home.”
Compared to the trauma of the past three days, Wednesday was a smooth ride.
Vehicles, lined up on the bridge since morning, moved at the specified speed of 20kmph. Heavy vehicles, particularly goods trucks, were stopped before Zero Mile near Pahari on the Patna end and near Hajipur divisional jail on the Vaishali end, allowing other vehicles to move smoothly.
The commuters pegged the traffic problem on the bridge on the police’s short-sightedness and faulty planning.
“Senior officers plan traffic management on paper sitting in their air-conditioned chambers. They have either little or no inkling of the ground reality. Had they ever visited the spot and tried to feel the plight of the commuters, they would have thought about seriously solving the problem,” said Sanjay Kumar Singh, visibly upset about missing his flight for Delhi on Tuesday.
Dismissing the allegations, Patna traffic superintendent of police Rajeev Mishra told The Telegraph: “I am personally monitoring the deployment of police force on the 3km stretch between Zero Mile and the bridge, which comes under the jurisdiction of Patna police. As repair work is under way on one flank of the bridge, I have asked the officers on spot not to allow drivers to overtake and ensure they follow the guidelines.”
He added that the officials assigned the responsibility to carry out the repair work have been asked to expedite the process. “We are planning to request them to only work at night. It can ease the traffic flow on the bridge,” said Mishra.
To prevent overtaking, he added that a special police team has been assigned the job to patrol the stretch from Zero Mile to Dhanuki turning from 7pm to 8am. Two closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras have also been installed — one at Zero Mile and another near pillar number 44 on the bridge — to monitor the movement of vehicles proceeding towards the bridge.
As many as 20 police constables and seven officers have been deployed between Zero Mile and the Gai Ghat check post to regulate traffic.
Mishra, who was recently appointed as the city’s traffic superintendent of police, although admitted that many policemen were found absent from duty during a surprise check on Tuesday night.
“I am looking into complaints of policemen allowing a few heavy vehicles to cross the bridge even during the prohibited hours. The practice has to be stopped. Their activities are being monitored through CCTV cameras,” he said.
Traffic superintendent of police Mishra also attributed the reason for the recent traffic congestion on the three-decade-old Mahatma Gandhi bridge to the heavy flow of vehicles because of the rail-cum-road bridge at Hathidah in Patna rural (Rajendra bridge) closing down.
“The railways have stopped movement of vehicles to facilitate repair work. As a result, vehicles coming from Assam, Jharkhand and other places are also being routed through Gandhi Setu,” he said.
The police headquarters also issued fresh orders on Tuesday asking senior police officers in Patna’s neighbouring districts to follow earlier guidelines on restriction of goods vehicles at specified places.
Officers of Vaishali, Jehanabad, Bhojpur, Nalanda, Lakhisarai and Muzaffarpur districts are among the personnel asked to check the entry of such vehicles under their jurisdiction for specified periods. Sources said the directives, issued in November last year, was effective for just a few weeks after which the officers relaxed.