Fly in for Puja, fly out for work

sanjay Mandal

Somnath Gupta is a "hardcore Calcuttan" who won't miss Puja in his favourite city for anything, only to say "bye-bye Calcutta" the moment the festival gets over.

The rush of outbound travellers at the airport over the first weekend after Puja after the spurt in arrivals during the previous one proves he isn't the only one who thinks Calcutta is the place to be at festival time but not to stay back in.

"Spending Puja in Calcutta is a family ritual and it's great fun to be here for the festive period. But after that….It's back to work," said 42-year-old Somnath, who arrived from Delhi with wife, son and daughter on Panchami night and left on Sunday morning.

"Sadly, there is nothing happening in Calcutta, no investment coming in, no job opportunities being created, so how can people like us hope to return?" the company executive rued.

Air travel data shows that on October 20 and 21 ' Sashthi and Saptami ' the number of arrivals in Calcutta from cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad was 20 to 30 per cent higher than the figure for outbound travel.

Jet Airways ferried nearly 4,000 people on its flights to the city from Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore on those two days. Outbound flights of the airline in those sectors carried around 2,800 travellers over the same period.

The trend was reversed on October 27 and 28, the first weekend after puja, with around 15 per cent more travellers flying out of Calcutta than those arriving in the city.

Jet Airways carried more than 3,000 passengers out of Calcutta to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore last Saturday and Sunday. "The trend analysis makes it clear that people from the state descend in droves before Puja and depart en masse the moment the festivities are over," an airline official said.

The state government might attribute the trend to higher inflow of tourists during Puja ' Mamata Banerjee is keen to develop tourism around the festivities ' but the statistics say otherwise.

Textbooks in economics call this "migration", wherein people move from one place to another in search of a livelihood. As in other parts of the world, migration is a pan-Indian phenomenon and people from all strata ' from an agricultural labourer to a software engineer ' shift base to other locations in search of higher earnings.

"One cannot fault a person shifting base for livelihood but the rate of migration is also an indicator of employment opportunities in the state," said a professor of economics in a city college.

Travel data reveals that inbound festival traffic from the other metros has increased in the last few years, which conversely implies that more people have migrated from Bengal to these cities.

"In the last three to four years, inbound passenger traffic in the run-up to Puja has doubled from Bangalore and Delhi and trebled from Hyderabad. It's the same with outbound traffic from the city once the festival gets over," said Anil Punjabi, chairman (east) of the Travel Agents' Federation of India.

So hasn't paribartan made a difference to the perception of non-resident Calcuttans about Calcutta? "It is a city to come back to pray and party in, not to work in," said Manisha Dey, a self-employed 30-year-old in Bangalore.

She was home for the Puja holidays but returned on the morning of Lakshmi Puja. "If Calcutta had even one-fourth the opportunities offered by Bangalore, I would come back to my city. But the only paribartan I see here is for the worse," she said.

A member of a business chamber who chose to remain anonymous called it "a sad reflection of the state of affairs in Calcutta".

"Most young professionals have left their city of birth and gone to other metros simply because this city gives them no job opportunities. And things are just going from bad to worse," he said.

The Trinamul Congress government, of course, contests any such observation. Industry minister Partha Chatterjee claimed in the Assembly recently that the government had received investment proposals worth over Rs 1 lakh crore since taking charge in May 2011.

Who do you blame for

Calcutta being a city that is good to visit at festival time but not to work in?