Lakhs of commuters in Kolkata and adjoining districts had a harrowing time on Monday as a rally by the ruling Left Front in the city sent normal life into disarray with arterial roads closed and public transport taken over to ferry participants.
Left supporters were brought from different parts of West Bengal for the rally to mark 50 years of the 'Food Movement' -- a show of strength for the alliance reeling under a string of political setbacks.
The Food Movement was a massive public protest launched by the party in 1959 to protest against food shortage caused by famine in West Bengal. Lakhs of people from all over the state gathered in Kolkata for a protest march to demand relief.
Not only commuters in the city, but those in the nearby districts as well were affected as hundreds of buses from these places were taken off the roads to bring party workers to the rally at Esplanade in the heart of Kolkata.
City Deputy Commissioner of Police (traffic) Dilip Banerjee said traffic was diverted from the Dorina Crossing at Esplanade to other roads due to the rally.
At least 100 of the local fleet and over 30 of the long distance fleet of buses run by the Calcutta State Transport Corporation were taken by the rallyists, thus leaving about 500 for commuters, a state transport official said.
With hundreds of buses being already off the roads since July 31 due to a Calcutta high court ban on 15-year-old commercial vehicles, commuters had a tough time reaching their destinations. People were forced to walk or hang precariously from buses. A number of schools, fearing harassment of pupils, had declared a holiday.
"State buses are less in number, as either vehicles were requisitioned or the staff went to attend the rally," the CSTC official said.
"Many of our buses are off the roads due to the ban. With buses taken off the routes today, the situation was worse," said Sadhan Das , general secretary of Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
"It is very sad that the ruling party Communist Party of India (Marxist) and its allies did not think of the plight of the citizens," said 55-year-old Mrinmoy Bose, who said he was waiting for over 30 minutes at Rashbehari crossing to get a bus to his office at Salt Lake.Bisakha Mukerjee of Jadavpur in south Kolkata said it took her two hours to reach her office at Esplanade, as buses were unavailable and when she could finally board one, it had to make a long detour with arterial roads leading to the centre of the city being closed to facilitate movement of the marchers.