Social distancing norms flouted across Bengal on first day of Unlock 1
Mostly government buses operated in Kolkata but in the districts some private buses hit the roads as well. Ferry services also started from Monday but were less crowded.Updated: Jun 01, 2020 21:53 IST
Overcrowded buses, long queues of office goers at bus stands and thousands of private cars choking traffic at crucial junctions marked the first day of Unlock 1 in West Bengal, and in Kolkata too, even as the state reported 271 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, including 54 in the capital city.
Mostly government buses operated in Kolkata but in the districts some private buses hit the roads as well. While the government has allowed buses to operate only with passengers up to its seating capacity, reports of crowded buses emerged from different districts, and even Kolkata. Most private buses stayed off the roads, however, because the government did not agree to their proposal for increasing the fare.
In public transport, though masks and gloves have been made mandatory for taking a bus ride, virtually no one wore gloves, but most people wore masks. Ferry services also started from Monday but were less crowded.
Auto-rickshaws mostly complied with the guidelines and plied with two passengers, instead of four as was usual, and charged double the previous fare. Private buses were often seen carrying many more passengers than allowed. Some government buses too carried more passengers after commuters deliberately boarded them.
“The seats are getting filled up at the starting point. People waiting at the next stoppages are getting impatient as all buses are coming with full capacity. They are forcefully boarding the buses. How could I alone stop them?” said a conductor of a bus of S5 route that plies between Garia in South Kolkata and Howrah Station.
A conductor of a bus of AC39 route that plies between Esplanade in the heart of Kolkata to the NSCB Airport area echoed his views. “I am helpless. You control these people,” said the conductor.
“I waited for an hour in vain but no bus came with a vacant seat,” said Shantpriya Chowdhury, whose office at Esplanade area asked him to join on Monday. Chowdhury commutes from Sulekha area in South Kolkata, a distance of about 14 km.
Private offices have been allowed to choose their staff strength in office from June 8 but can now operate with 50% of the workforce. A number of private offices in the city and the state started operations from Monday after a gap of two months.
On social media, too, people shared their experience of going to their office for the first time after more than two months. “First day back in office today. The situation on the roads is absolutely frightening… Traffic in full force, buses crowded, autos and cabs full... Kids on bikes, most of them without helmets and/or masks,” Stephanie Sweeney, who works at a private firm in south Kolkata, wrote on Facebook.
Sougata Bali, a writer based in Serampore, Hooghly district, shared a similar experience. “While travelling from Serampore to Hind Motor by motorbike, I saw all private buses crowded, people even hanging from the door. There was absolutely no social distancing.”
The business districts in central Kolkata, such as Burrabazar, Posta, Canning Street and Rabindra Sarani saw packed crowds on streets and wholesale markets.
Kolkata’s famous book market of College Street also opened on Monday. However, due to lack of transport, all shops will not be getting all their employees, especially those who travel from distant areas by local train.
“I will keep my shop open for three days a week, from 11 am to 4 pm, for the time being,” said Subrata Das, owner of Setu Publishing.
Even though religious places have been allowed to open, major religious places such as the Kalighat temple and Belur Math remained closed. Several restaurants opened, while some of those with bars have not opened yet because there is no clarity on whether liquor can be served and bars operated.