The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Transport trauma tonight
- Operators say they will meet Buddha, no one else

Calcutta, Aug. 24: The three-day statewide strike by transport operators from Tuesday will in effect begin from tomorrow night with taxi-owners saying they will withdraw vehicles from the road at 10 pm.

The transport operators had called the strike in protest against enhanced road taxes and other levies and “increasing” harassment by police. About 23,000 private buses, 8,000 mini buses and 32,000 taxis ply across the state every day.

Twenty-four associations of owners of bus, mini bus, taxi, truck, chartered bus and luxury taxis today held a series of meetings to discuss whether to attend tomorrow’s first sitting of the 17-member committee set up by the government to look into their grievances. Director of the public vehicles department and joint secretary of transport Prashant had called the meeting.

At the end of the day, the operators decided to boycott the meeting as they had reservations about some of the committee members.

“We had formed the committee in their presence. How can they suddenly object to some members in the committee'” asked Prashant.

The transporters today also discussed minister Subhas Chakraborty’s threat to requisition buses and appeal to workers to ply the vehicles.

Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha said the operators will resist “till their last breath” any attempt by Citu, the CPM’s labour wing, to bring out vehicles on the road. “We will resist all attempts by the union to run vehicles using force. But we don’t understand how they will do it because we have the bus keys, conductors’ bags and tickets,” said Saha.

Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said the government is “concerned” and “steps are being taken to avert the strike at any cost”. “I know they have boycotted the meeting of the 17-member committee,” he said.

Officials at Writers’ Buildings said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee might intervene in a last ditch effort to prevent the strike.

“We will definitely attend a meeting called by the chief minister,” said Saha.

Over 2,000 fuel pumps will go on a 72-hour strike from Wednesday to protest the hike in sales tax on petrol and diesel.

General secretary of West Bengal Petroleum Dealers’ Association Joydeb Sarkar said following the rise in fuel prices, trucks and other large vehicles are filling up tanks in adjoining Bihar and Orissa.

Chakraborty has invited representatives of the association to a meeting at Writers’ tomorrow.

The Bengal Taxi Association, the Progressive Taximen’s Union and the Calcutta Taxi Association today decided that taxis would be taken off the road at 10 pm on Monday. “We have decided to extend the strike from 72 hours to 80 hours. One of our major grievances is the harassment at the hands of the police. We want to withdraw taxis from Monday night because we fear that mobile police patrols may harass us further at night,” said Bimal Guha, the general secretary of the Bengal Taxi Association.

The number of buses and mini buses may whittle from tomorrow evening as the vehicles would head for garage. About 2,500 chartered buses, which carry school students and office-goers, trucks and luxury taxis will also join the strike.

“We understand that children and office-goers will face problems but we have no option,” said Himadri Ganguly of the West Bengal Contract Carriage Owners’ and Operators’ Association.

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