The last Saturday before Puja, Chaturthi in the Durga Puja calendar, was chaotic: crawling traffic, surge of people and little care for Covid hygiene were made worse by intermittent rain.
Tritiya, Friday, was crowded but Saturday was worse, said an officer posted out-side New Alipore’s Suruchi Sangha.
Peak evening crowd
Despite the court restrictions to discourage people from crowding pandals, many big ticket pujas like Sreebhumi Sporting and Naktala Udayan Sangha saw large crowds on Chaturthi evening.
Police said it was a challenge to handle the crowd and simultaneously ensure Covid norms were maintained.
Personnel posted at Sreebhumi Sporting said the footfall on Saturday evening was more than Tritiya and was growing as the night wore on. Naktala Udayan Sangha, Suruchi Sangha and Tridhara Sammilani pandals, too, pulled crowds in the evening on Chaturthi.
“Dada, lok-e thakur dekhte beriyeche, apnar mukh noy (Brother, people have come to see the idol and not your face),” an officer was heard saying to a family of three without masks, near Ekdalia Evergreen around 6pm on Saturday.
An officer posted there said although the majority of the people were wearing masks, some were still acting careless and claiming to have forgotten their masks at home.
“We are allowing people to pull down their mask only while taking a selfie. Otherwise, if someone is seen around a pandal without a mask, we are immediately providing one and asking them not to repeat the mistake,” said an officer of Gariahat police station.
Rain and last minute shopping brought traffic to a halt in several pockets of the city on Saturday. Traffic was affected because of rainfall on Central Avenue, SN Banerjee Road, Strand Road and EM Bypass, while vehicle speed was slow near shopping areas like New Market, Hatibagan and Dakshinapan shopping complex.
For many who were traveling south from central Calcutta, it took double the time to cross Dhakuria on Saturday evening.
“I usually reach my Baghajatin home from my office in Ballygunge in 30-35 minutes. But today, it took me more than an hour. There was a traffic jam at Gariahat crossing around 4.15pm and then again at Dhakuria at 4.30pm,” said Nilakshi Nath.
Incomplete pandals are not just a cause of concern for the Puja organisers but could also become a worry for pedestrians and vehicles.
“Traffic was very slow on Maniktala Main Road around 5pm today. I found that one of the pandals in Maniktala that was making last minute preparations had set up temporary barricades that had reduced road space,” said an officer in Maniktala.