Welcome to life in snail lane, where road rules are meant to be broken and chaotic crossroads is the order of the day. For, Calcutta appears to have lost out to auto-rickshaw menace in its struggle for space and speed.
Almost wilting under pressure from Citu, the labour arm of the ruling CPM, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has decided to allow another 5,000 auto-rickshaws to hit the city streets in the next few months and add to the mess in the mass transit system in Calcutta and its suburbs.
The public vehicles department (PVD), following a December 19 directive from the state transport department, is said to be putting the finishing touches to the permits being issued to nearly 5,000 applicants.
The green signal for the three-wheelers needs to be put in perspective:
4It rolls back — in a “backdoorish” way — the government’s earlier decision to freeze the official auto-rickshaw population at 10,000. Unofficial estimates peg it at about 15,000
4It enables the ruling communists to appease a large section of supporters by showering new auto permits on them
“It is true that we stopped issuing new permits from last year,” says Lakshman Bhattacharya, vice-chairman of the state transport authority (STA). “But new autos mean employment generation and how can you ignore this aspect' However, we promise there will be no more permits after the current phase and all auto operators will be educated about traffic rules.”
State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty adds: “Most of the new autos will hit the road this month. There is no reason to feel disturbed, because they are going to enter the system in response to a palpable need, besides being a source of employment for at least 5,000 unemployed youths.”
Interestingly, Chakraborty and loyalist Lakshman Bhattacharya, who last year advocated and later announced the slamming of auto brakes, are now pushing the three-wheeler lobby’s case. All, apparently, at Citu’s behest. “We do not think autos are the cause of traffic chaos. In fact, they have a meaningful role to play,” chorus Chakraborty and Bhattacharya these days.
Once commissioned, the actual auto-rickshaw population will rise to around 20,000, despite grumbles from traffic planners, transport officials and the city police. “ I am surprised, I am shocked. Auto-rickshaws are already playing havoc with traffic movement. The additional machines will simply choke the city roads,” warns M.K.Singh, deputy commissioner of police overseeing traffic.
“We are for the autos as they generate employment and provide a swift transport option for the people,” counters Mrinal Das, managing Citu’s successful campaign for the ubiquitous autowallah. The decision has even taken the PVD by surprise. “I was on leave so I do not know who took the decision... I am bound to issue fresh permits as directed by the government,” said Prashant, PVD director.