The Sreebhumi puja in Lake Town was closed to visitors late on Wednesday after the pandal began drawing huge crowds with thousands of people making a beeline for the 145-foot structure, built on the model of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, violating all Covid norms.
Puja organisers said only residents of the area were allowed inside the pandal.
Police issued a shutdown order to the Puja organisers around 11pm on Ashtami night after thousands jostled to make their way into the pandal resulting in a stampede-like situation, which led to at least three persons, including a woman and a child, getting injured. They were admitted to hospital.
The pandal closed to visitors on Navami.Gautam Bose
Late at night, the state government requested the railway to ensure that suburban trains did not stop at the Bidhannagar station on Navami to prevent thousands of people from the suburbs from visiting the Sreebhumi pandal. The railway instructed all suburban trains not to stop at the Bidhannagar station for 12 hours from 4pm on Thursday.
The instruction to shut down the pandal was issued around three hours after the Bidhannagar police commissionerate forced the puja organisers to switch off the pandal’s lights to deter visitors to the show-stopper on VIP Road.
“We tried different ways to manage the Ashtami crowd at Sreebhumi. But after a point, nothing seemed to work,” said a senior police officer of the Bidhannagar police commissionerate.
“The pandal had to be shut after all the avenues to keep it open were exhausted.”
Around 7.30pm, a team of senior police officers from the Bidhannagar police commissionerate met Sujit Bose, the minister in charge of fire and emergency services and the key organiser of the Sreebhumi puja, and requested him to shut down all the lights.
Even that didn’t help much as thousands continued to make their way to the pandal.
Sreebhumi has emerged as one of the biggest crowd-pullers in Kolkata during Durga Puja for the last few years and the police had drawn up a circulation plan for visitors this year. Three pedestrian channels including one for VIPs and those with passes were set up so that visitors could enter the pandal from one end and leave from another.
On Wednesday night, the huge numbers forced cops to open all three channels for everyone. This, too, did not work as the crowd started jostling after waiting for hours, resulting in a stampede-like situation.
The pedestrian subways that let people cross over VIP Road, including the one near Sreebhumi, were crowded beyond capacity. After a point, visitors took to the streets, bringing traffic to a halt.
Police make announcements about the Sreebhumi pandal being closed to visitors on Thursday afternoonGautam Bose
“We had deployed many volunteers and there was a large police contingent to control traffic and pedestrian movement. But the sheer number of visitors overwhelmed us. We decided to shut down because public safety is of utmost importance to us,” Bose said.
Traffic began to pile up on VIP Road and the effect was felt till EM Bypass and New Town. At Haldiram, the police diverted the Salt Lake-bound traffic through New Town.
“From Haldiram on VIP Road, we reached City Centre II, a distance of a little less than 1km, in an hour and a half,” said Avjit Bose who was travelling from Birati to Tollygunge on Wednesday evening.
Around 11pm, it was decided that the puja would be shut to visitors for the night and through Navami.
“There was a massive spill-over of people on VIP Road till as far as Bangur Avenue. The police requested us to keep the pandal off limits for visitors,” said Dibyendu Kishor Goswami, the chief coordinator of the puja.
In October 2015, the Durga Puja at Deshapriya Park had to be shut down after a near-stampede situation left the old and young gasping for breath while trying to catch what was billed as the world’s tallest Durga idol.
On Thursday, cops were deployed around the Sreebhumi pandal to ensure no visitors could enter. Only residents were allowed to enter through the barricades.
Kolkata police used its mobile display boards, located at some intersections, to spread the word that Sreebhumi was closed to visitors.