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Tragedy strikes pilgrim trail

Gangasagar pilgrims, many of them possibly first-time visitors to the city and unaware of no-go zones for pedestrians, walk down Red Road on Saturday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

RR Avenue: A speeding bus on Saturday knocked down a 50-year-old woman in a group of Gangasagar pilgrims trying to cross a stretch of Rani Rashmoni Avenue between two zebra crossings that they either did not notice or ignored.

The victim, whose identity could not be immediately confirmed, was possibly from Maharashtra and was to visit Sagar Island with her husband for a dip in the Ganga on Sankranti.

She died of her injuries at SSKM Hospital in the evening.

On Thursday, a taxi had run over a nine-year-old girl barely 100 metres away. She was going across the carriageway from a point where there is no pedestrian crossing.

Police said the woman who came in the way of the bus was stranded in the middle of the road along with the rest of the group while vehicles sped past them. "Then they attempted to sprint to the other side all at once. All but one managed to cross over safely," an officer said. "The woman probably hesitated for a fraction of a second and was hit by a private bus on route 24A/1."

The bus did not stop, but was intercepted near Strand Road by a team from Hare Street police station.

There are two zebra crossings on either side within 50 metres of where the tragedy occurred. "The victim was apparently going to the Shahid Minar ground to catch a bus to Sagar," said a cop who was part of the deployment in that area on Saturday.

Guardrails were placed along that stretch of Rani Rashmoni Avenue in the evening.

Crossing a thoroughfare is, of course, always a risk in a city where vehicles do not slow down for pedestrians even at zebra crossings. At this time of the year, the chances of a fatal accident increases on Red Road and the nearby arteries because of the congregation of pilgrims from across the country.

People waiting to travel to Sagar gather mostly in the open spaces adjoining Red Road and Mayo Road, many of them first-time visitors to the city. "You can see dozens of people trying to cross the intersection of Red Road and Mayo Road or Rani Rashmoni Avenue at any time of day. The problem is that most of them do not know the basic rules of the road," said an officer in the traffic department.

So, why don't the police have a strategy to manage the increased pedestrian flow in the heart of the city ahead of the Gangasagar pilgrimage season? "Either the deployment has to be increased on that stretch or ropes have to be used for crowd control, just the way it is done during Durga Puja," the officer said.

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