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Crowd surge and chaos at Visva-Bharati fest

The footfall of 2.5 lakh stunned Visva-Bharati authorities and tourists in equal measure

By Snehamoy Chakraborty in Santiniketan
  • Published 22.03.19, 3:11 AM
  • Updated 22.03.19, 3:11 AM
  • 2 mins read
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The crowd at the Basanta Utsav on the Visva-Bharati campus in Santiniketan on Thursday. Picture by Indrajit Roy

Crowds “beyond imagination” and “choking” traffic turned Basanta Utsav chaotic on Thursday, dashing Visva-Bharati’s hopes of coming out with flying colours in its Holi celebrations that have been a big draw for years.

Thursday’s footfall of 2.5 lakh stunned Visva-Bharati authorities and tourists in equal measure, with one frequent visitor terming it the “worst” she had seen.

“In the past five years, an average of 1 lakh to 1.2 lakh used to attend Basanta Utsav. This year, we had predicted 1.5 lakh. But we found 2.5 lakh arrived today (Thursday),” said a police officer. The event was started by Rabindranath Tagore in 1920.

The programme starts with a procession at 7am in which Visva-Bharati students and staff sing Tagore songs. A cultural programme follows. On Thursday, though, visitors started streaming in from 4.30am. By 7.30am, about 1.5 lakh people had gathered.

A police officer said many had arrived as early as 2.30am in cars, buses and two-wheelers from various areas, mostly from Calcutta.

“The situation turned grave around 7.30am as the volume of traffic led to severe traffic snarls on most roads and bylanes of Santiniketan. We had provision for parking 2,000 cars and buses. By 8.30am, about 5,000 cars and 300 buses had arrived. We could not count the two-wheelers,” a police officer said.

Tourists rushed towards the campus and many climbed iron fences to reach the venue of the Basanta Utsav programme. In some areas, the fences were damaged.

District police chief Shyam Singh said: “We had deployed 1,500 personnel, double that of last year. The traffic was choked for three hours from 9.30am. We somehow managed the situation. There was, however, no untoward incident.”

Police sources said the rush could be because of the long weekend ahead. A senior Visva official said: “It was beyond our imagination that 2.5 lakh people will come from different corners of the state and the country, including many VIPs.”

Supriyo Tagore, a descendant of the Tagore family and former principal of Patha Bhavana, said crowds had been increasing for the past 10 years. “There had been discussions within Visva-Bharati on a change in the Basanta Utsav date to have less crowds and a peaceful programme. But no decision was taken.”

Sarika Mukherjee, an alumna of Visva-Bharati and a high school teacher in East Burdwan, said “this year’s was the worst Basanta Utsav” she had seen. “There was chaos and mismanagement all around.”

Anirban Sircar, Visva’s PRO, said the authorities had “tried their best” to make the event successful. “If there was any mismanagement, we will have to look into it.”