Kolkata was at its chaotic worst on Monday. The city floundered in search of its moorings with the official declaration that all offices would reopen on 8 June after the serial lockdowns that had had a crippling effect since the morning of 25 March.
So far, so reassuring. But the administration at Nabanna, the state secretariat as a whole and the transport department in particular, would appear to have proceeded from conclusion to premise.
Just as the city and the rest of the country were not prepared for Phase I of the lockdown ~ almost incredibly declared with four hours’ notice ~ Kolkata was virtually brought to its knees in the absence of urban transportation, touted by the government as the first working day after a 75-day shutdown.
Despite the assurance that the fleet of state buses would be expanded, the promise turned out to be a putrid joke at the cost of thousands of commuters. Not that state buses did not ply: they did but only very partially, with the drivers and conductors, almost by design, ignoring the scheduled halts where hundreds of people were waiting for transport throughout the day.
The stoppages along the routes were ignored even when the buses had vacant seats. Ergo, the “first working day” after an extended bout of enforced idleness was a torturous exercise for the populace, whose patience is sorely tried. No less torturous was one’s experience with private buses ~ verily the lifeline of the city as is the Metro.
It strains credulity to imagine that many if not most of these buses ran with their doors closed from inside, once again despite vacant seats. Could the reason be that these were running on the basis of the existing fare charts? In the net, the scenes on the road were too frightful to imagine.
Men as well as women, proceeding to or returning from office, had no option but to cling onto the railings of the speeding buses of considerably truncated fleets. The worst could have happened in the event of a jerk or a reckless application of the brake.
The state government has claimed 70 per cent attendance in private enterprises; the fact of the matter must be that 70 per cent of the buses were parked in the terminals with locked doors. There is considerable confusion too among hoi-polloi over Monday’s announcement that Phase 5 of the lockdown in Bengal will continue till 30 June.
This lockdown is nationwide, going by the Centre’s announcement at the end of May when the fourth phase ended. Having failed to deliver on what it called the “first working day”, was it really necessary for the state to weave its parallel lockdown embroidery, overlapping with the Centre’s?
It would be worthwhile if a firm decision is taken on the bus operators’ demand for a fare hike if the vehicles are to carry only 40 passengers. The proposal on cycling to one’s destination is neither here nor there.