Year-end revellers take toll

Handicraft fair organisers rue excess footfall, mull date shift next time

By Brinda Sarkar & Tathagata Ray Chowdhury in Calcutta
  • Published 11.01.19, 8:36 PM
  • Updated 11.01.19, 8:36 PM
  • 4 mins read
An unending stream of vehicles and pedestrians on the road leading to the entrance of Hastashilpa Mela. Brinda Sarkar

If Eco Park registered slightly less footfall this season than last year, Hastashilpa Mela, opposite Gate 1, made up for it. Together they drew lakhs of visitors and thousands of vehicles, even leading to traffic snarls outside.

“Last year we held this fair in November but this year we held it to coincide with the festive season, expecting better footfall,” said an official of the micro, small and medium enterprises and textile department, that is organising the fair. The fair was held between December 18 and January 9.

“In turn it drew so much footfall that visitors were having difficulty making purchases in the middle of all the jostling. Several times we had to close our gates as the venue could hold no more people,” he added.

A civic policeman, Goutam Samanta, said they had to hold up ropes at the fair’s gate and stand blocking entry to visitors whenever crowds swelled beyond control.

Biswajit Roy of MB Security agency said they had more than 30 guards reporting daily, and some more on Sundays, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

But all those additional visitors didn’t translate into increase in sales. “The crowd was insane! At times it was like in Puja pandals, where you just get pushed ahead so as to not let the crowd stagnate. When shoppers couldn’t browse our products leisurely how could they buy them?” said Asit Mondal, who sold toys near gate 1.

Others like Uma Mukherjee, a jewellery seller, said the crowd comprised more window-shoppers than serious buyers. “Hoards would pour in from the Eco Park exit gate. But those people neither had the mindset nor the money to buy. They just came to the fair to explore another spot.”

The fair official admitted to the same. “While overall sales were more than last year’s, next time we may shift our dates back to November. Even if footfall is less, at least all visitors will be serious buyers then.”

Meanwhile, sources said 1,27,287 visitors thronged Eco Park on January 1, slightly less than the 1,55,000 recorded on the same day last year. Similarly, about 1,00,250 people visited on Christmas 2018. “The footfall was much higher on Christmas 2017,” said the official.

Traffic snarls

Either way, the combined visitors to Eco Park and the handicraft fair led to slow movement of traffic in the area. Last Sunday, a doctor had a harrowing experience driving from the Biswa Bangla Gate to a hospital at Chinar Park. “I was to assist a childbirth at a hospital there at 7.30pm. I left my clinic near Biswa Bangla Gate and took the Major Arterial Road (MAR) at around 6.30pm. Little did I know that the journey, which otherwise takes 20 minutes, would take me nearly 75 minutes!” said paediatrician Saptarshi Das, a resident of East Enclave.

The road was chock-a-block from around Eco Park’s gate 1 till the Mangaldeep Island, close to Eco Park’s gate 4. Then again it was congested from City Centre 2 to Chinar Park. “I had to park my car midway at the petrol pump opposite City Centre 2, waylay a motorcyclist begging him for a lift to help me cross the stretch,” says Das.

He reached the hospital at 7.45pm, after the baby’s delivery!

Mala Roy Chowdhury, a resident of DF Block near the Biswa Bangla Gate, is suffering too. “When I go to office in the morning it takes me 45 minutes. But on the way back in the evenings it’s taking me an hour and half. It takes over half an hour to cross the stretch between Eco Park’s gate 1 and 4 alone.”

Three months’ planning

The authorities acknowledge that this stretch becomes a problem every winter. “After the record-breaking footfall at Eco Park last year, we knew this year would be no different. Plus, the Metro construction work has cordoned off much of the road near Chinar Park, causing traffic to bottle-neck. So we have been preparing to tackle traffic here for the last three months,” said an official of the Bidhannagar Commissionerate’s traffic wing.

Last year, he said, the police was forced to divert traffic off the MAR to a parallel road crossing Aliah University and Eco Space. “But that is a much longer route and drivers shouldn’t have to resort to that. So this time we have taken different measures,” he explained.

For starters, a chunk of cars was not on allowed to exit from Eco Park straight into the MAR. Rather, they were routed through service lanes to gates 5 and 6, which are perpendicular to the MAR. “To cater to the sudden surge of visitors using these gates, we got a bus stand built opposite gate 5 too,” said the officer.

Similarly, many cars headed into New Town from Chinar Park were routed to the street in front of the Hanuman temple. “Our intention was to reduce the burden on the MAR at any cost,” the officer said.

Commuters like Ashok Bhattacharya, an accounts professional working at Unitech Infospace, prefers to use such alternative routes. “I am avoiding the Eco Park stretch since Christmas. Revellers visiting Eco Park, along with the huge turnout at Hastashilpa Mela have rendered the road impassable for office-goers and airport-bound passengers. For now, I am taking the road running parallel to the MAR from the Mangaldeep Island,” he said.

Car parking was another challenge. “The parking lot at Eco Park’s gate 1 can hold 1,000 cars and the one at the Hastashilpa Mela another 500. But on weekends both were getting full and cops were forced to create one-lane parking slots on the service road running parallel to the MAR,” said a parking attendant at gate 1. “This was further adding to the congestion.

At the other end of the park the authorities offered a solution. “We built a temporary parking lot opposite gate 5 around the Silicon Valley plot. It housed 1,000 cars and was the only way we could keep cars from parking on the service lanes,” said the traffic department official.

With the Hastashilpa Mela having concluded on Wednesday, commuters are now keeping their fingers crossed for a less crowded weekend.

The crush of visitors at the fair on its last day on Wednesday.
The crush of visitors at the fair on its last day on Wednesday. Brinda Sarkar