Shankha International
Shankha International in Bengali

Spring-00 Issue

Bakul Rai Das, a village boy of 13 years of the Bagnan village in the district of Howrah, just stepping into his teenage, came to his 'dream city' Calcutta on October 10th last year (1994), just the day before the commencement of the Durga Puja. In fact, he came on the day of 'Shasti' as an assistant to one of the 'dhak' players. He was hired by them to play the 'Kansha' for which he was promised to be paid Rs. 20/- per day.

But his prolonged days of excitement, his hopes and desires to see the entire Calcutta through the eyes of Ma Durga, extinguished in seconds with the rhythmicbeat of the 'dhak' in the background. It was unknown to the performers that the welcoming tune they were playing was the tune for Bakul's farewell. That day was Bakul's turn to be butchered by a mini bus on the ramp of the Kalighat Bridge. Instantly his young, delicate skull was ground to a paste.

This is just one of the hundreds of accidents that occur, annually, in Calcutta due to reckless driving of vehicles. This city of three hundred years has grown totally in an unplanned manner. According to the 1991 census the population of Calcutta Metropolitan Area is 4.39 million living in an area of 187.39 sq. km. Ten years ago the population was 3.30 million living in an area of 104 sq. km. What is astonishing is the density of population in some pockets of the city. In 4 wards of north Calcutta the density exceeds 1,75,000 persons per sq. km and in another 35 wards it is more than 80,000 persons per sq. km. In addition the pavement dwellers constitute 600,000.

This substantial increase in the population is bound to utilize the scanty roadway which constitutes only 5.8% of the total city area. The normal standard of roadway of a city is 25-30%. This low percentage of road system causes grievous problems to the dwellers. Daily an estimated 75 lakhs people (1991) commute each day on the buses and trams. The capacity of which is only 28 lakhs to 30 lakhs. They are 250-300 per cent overloaded during the peak hours. Commuters to Calcutta, those who come from the outskirts of the city, need to use both railway and other surface transport to reach their place of work. About 6500 buses serve all these passengers and the tube rail (Metro) serves thousands of passengers bringing relief to their waste of time and loss of energy. Besides these, 30,000 trucks are estimated to enter or leave Calcutta during a period of 24 hours causing traffic jams and reducing the road capacity significantly. Recently 15,000 auto rickshaws were added to the vehicular population which not only further pollutes the air but also causes more accidents due to the reckless driving.

The street hawkers who occupy the pavements compelling the pedestrians to use the road thus creating problems for the flow of traffic also reduce the road space. Parking of rickshaws, auto rickshaws and handcarts too, at some areas, reduce the road space. In addition the condition of the roads are bad. In some areas there are cracks and innumerable potholes. Some holes are over 2 inches deep. They are existing mostly along the tramlines of central Calcutta and is very dangerous.

These are some of the cause of the fatal accidents that occur in Calcutta. Do we ever think what effect does each accident have on the person and his family? As in Bakul's case, he was the only son of the aged parents who had four more daughters. The youngest sister, aged 6, expected that her brother would return with a Cadbury chocolate for her. She and her brother often viewed the advertisement of the Cadbury chocolate in their neighbor's television. He had promised to bring some for her from Calcutta this time. It is pathetic to imagine what she got instead as she ran out to greet him.

Now this is not the time for us to search for more faults but to decide what we can do to try and minimize the causes of accidents.

· First and foremost, the pedestrians should use footpaths. To do this the pavements should be cleared of hawkers restricting their sales to allotted market places.

· Secondly, properly trained traffic police should be increased and posted at all the busy crossings. No matter how narrow the roads may be, accidents mostly occur at these busy intersections mainly near the schools and shopping areas.

· Thirdly, drivers should be issued licenses in a strict manner. A certificate of knowledge of traffic jams; its causes and effects; and about the air and sound pollution should be issued with the license. The course may be of 2/3 days included in the license achievement program. Violation of any rule should not be overlooked.

· Fourthly, the conditions of the roads should be improved for easy, swift flow of the vehicles. Construction of more flyovers is essential to regularize the traffic system together with light signals. One way traffic flow should be brought into operation strictly throughout the city.

More suggestions can be thought of. We must think about the matter seriously and reduce the numerous accidents that occur within the city. For there are many Bakuls, many parents and young sisters crying. The victims are of the lack of planning, of inertia and procrastination sacrifices to the new gods of speed and modernity. Perhaps we should pause for a moment and think of Bakul.

While our resources are limited, can we afford the cost of such tragic waste?

(Since 1995 when this piece was written the Municipal Corporation of Calcutta did bring about some changes to enhance the flow of traffic mainly in order to reduce air pollution. They are: - introduction of (1) traffic lights at the main intersections, (2) one way traffic, (3) clearance of hawkers from some of the busy intersections, (4) drawing lanes in some areas to avoid over-crossing by vehicles which is seldom followed by the drivers. There are plans to construct about three more fly-overs and also to construct parking building somewhere in the esplanade area.