Ask the question to the transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who is now busy sorting out glitches on the path of the proposed East-West Metro. Chance is all you’ll receive is a blank stare from him.
He must be a harried person because he has to convince the owners of 40 small furniture shops along a 200-meter stretch of BB Ganguly Street to give way for construction of an underground station adjacent to the present metro station, Central.
News has it that since the E-W Metro will have stations in both the Sealdah and Howrah railway terminals, there will be at least 2.5 lakh passengers daily in the route, which will also have a stopover at BBD Bag near Writers Building.
How is the convenience of 2.5 lakh passengers comparable to the inconvenience of 40 furniture shop owners? If you’re in some middle-east countries ruled by sheikhs or sultans, or in Singapore where there is an authoritarian rule, or even in communist China, such a question will have no relevance. Whatever is desired by the rulers becomes the rule.
In India such ‘luxuries’ are not to be had. More so in Kolkata, where for example no amount of force is able to dislodge hawkers from the main streets even though they brazenly occupy almost the entire pavement to run their business.
Kolkata is all the more unique because like hawkers, the bus drivers who routinely kill people on the road are so blatantly abrasive that you’ll have to pinch yourself to realize that you’re not in an African banana republic.
At times it appears that the quality of life in Kolkata has reached its nadir, that there is no value in the life and respect of people, that the government has become totally oblivious to common people’s concerns.
If you take a ringside view you’re likely to observe the chaotic life in the city happening because of paucity of space. Kolkata hasn’t expanded for many years even as the pressure on its fragile means has increased manifold.
There are just too many entities struggling to find space in the overcrowded city, and the fight is so intense that in the process it has ceased to be of any concern that people are dying at an alarming rate due to road accidents.
Of course the responsibility for the degradation of life on the city’s roads is government’s because it has for all those years that it has governed failed to foresee what an urban nightmare could the city be for neglecting its development.
Those of you who haven’t been to the city yet may take a look at these 2 photographs of a central Kolkata locality. Don’t be alarmed that you can barely see any road in them. Within the jungles of these bricks-and-mortars there are roads, but they are so narrow that they largely remain hidden from the view.