India and Pakistan have never been friends, but the war they fought in 1965 actually ended up benefiting the hundreds of thousands of people who commute daily between Kolkata and Howrah, the two neighbouring settlements separated by the River Hooghly.
Load off bridge
Until 1965, West Bengal and Assam were connected by waterways, and vessels run by the River Steam Navigation Company went up and down the network of rivers via what was then East Pakistan. Once the war broke out in September that year, the boats that happened to be in Pakistani territory — 15 of them — were seized. Of the remaining boats, 23 were stranded in Assam and 24 in Calcutta. The company decided put the boats moored in Calcutta to good use, and in November began a ferry service to Howrah, taking considerable load off the iconic Howrah Bridge.
Subsequently, the State government took over the business and today the ferry service has only grown. Close to 2 lakh people cross the river on diesel-run boats on a weekday and about one lakh on a non-working day. The service is run by the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) and a cooperative called the Hooghly Nadi Jalapath Paribahan Samanbay Samiti Limited; each entity runs its own vessels.
“There are about 45 boats in all [running between Kolkata and Howrah]. We own 28 of them, and the remaining belong to the cooperative,” an official of the WBTC told The Hindu.
“We are already connected to many suburban areas such as Dakshineshwar and expanding to connect more suburban locations. New jetties are being constructed, existing jetties being redone,” the official said.
The ferry service is particularly beneficial to Kolkata because its primary railway station — the red-brick Howrah Station — sits across the river and serves as the terminus for suburban trains used by hundreds of thousands of people to get to their workplaces in Kolkata and to return home.
A boat ride across the river is not only quicker, scenic and pollution-free but also cheap: just ₹6 for a one-way ticket. The service begins at six in the morning and ends at 10 in the night. There are seven ghats — spread across the Kolkata riverfront — from where rides are available to the Howrah Station and prominent locations across the river.
“Our fleet includes four double-decker boats, which people also hire for parties with live music; we will get two more such boats this year,” the official said. “The ferry service makes profits. With the roads getting increasingly clogged, more and more people are taking the boat these days.”
Source: The Hindu