With the West Bengal government easing most lockdown restrictions in non-containment areas in West Bengal from Monday, people and private vehicles were back on the streets of Kolkata and its suburbs, but with scant regard for social-distancing norms.
A large number of private cars, two-wheelers, and other vehicles were seen in areas such as Esplanade, SN Banerjee Road, CR Avenue, Gariahat, Shyambazar, Alipore, BT Road, and Tollygunge, like any other day before lockdown was imposed in late March.
Traffic snarls were seen on Jessore Road near the airport, Esplanade, Howrah Bridge and VIP Road. “The government allowed private offices to open up. I have to reach my office. So I am out. How long can anyone stay home? It is true that there is a rush on the streets. I have also seen a large number of people not wearing masks,” said Rupak Sanyal, a motorcyclist in Kankurgachi on his way to office in Girish Park.
However, those without their own vehicles found it difficult to commute. The inadequacy of public transport became conspicuous as most of the private buses decided to remain off the road.
Many commuters faced a long wait at bus stands as government buses took passengers as per their seating capacity, and refused to allow passengers to travel standing. Since morning, people were seen jostling to get on to government buses at bus stops across the city. Government bus depots such as Jadavpur 8B bus stand, and the depot in Ultadanga saw long queues since morning.
“I am waiting for an hour. The government buses which are full [seating capacity] are not stopping. People are trying to get in like mad in the ones that are stopping. I do not want to push and shove like them. Corona is still here,” said commuter Sanchita Bhattacharya in Maniktala.
On Sunday, the Bus Minibus Samannay Samity had said it would recommence services on some routes in Kolkata and several districts on an experimental basis.
However, the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates ruled out restarting services, saying it was not viable for them to follow the government’s directive to only take as many passengers as the seating capacity of buses, and not allow anyone travel standing. On May 31, a day after they were allowed to take their vehicles back on the road, many private bus operators had demanded a fare hike to keep their businesses afloat.
In a meeting on Monday, the council decided to submit a memorandum to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and state Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikary the following day.
Meanwhile, some footpath stalls opened up along with some shops. Ferry services on the Hooghly river between Howrah and Kolkata also restarted after a hiatus of more than two months.
According to officials, the West Bengal Transport Corporation and a cooperative started operating vessels on nine routes on the river. Some of the routes are Howrah-Fairlie, Kuthighat-Belur, Noorpur-Gadiara, Nazirganj-Metiabruz, Ramkrishnapur-Chandpal, and Howrah-Bagbazar via Ahiritola and Sovabazar. Each vessel was filled only up to 40 per cent of its capacity to maintain social distancing, and will run every hour from 8 am to 6 pm. Passengers were screened using thermal guns.
Famous temples such as Kalighat and Dakshineswar remained closed, while some of those that reopened allowed worshippers to have ‘darshan’ of idols from a distance.
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