TAXI TORMENT I: Arunava Dutta, a Tollygunge resident, arrived at Sealdah station at 10.30 pm from Barrackpore with his wife, Putul, and children Sanjukta and Tutul. When he tried to hail a cab, he was accosted by a taxi driver who demanded Rs 450. The normal fare would not cross Rs 150 by the meter. As an argument broke out, Dutta found himself encircled by a crowd of cabbies. He beat a retreat, and was forced to haul family and luggage way beyond the station premises to call a cab.
TAXI TORMENT II: Rudranil Das arrived at Sealdah station at 10.40 pm from Rampurhat with younger brother Subhranil. The cabbies demanded an outrageous Rs 250 to drop them off at Burrabazar, five times more than the normal fare. “Jabo na, dada (We won’t go),” was the stubborn reply when the brothers demanded to be taken by the meter.
Sealdah, “the largest junction of passenger trains” under the Eastern Railway, turns into a nightmare for passengers touching down at night.
Despite the presence of the government railway police (GRP) posted on the premises, and the close proximity to Entally and Muchipara police stations, an organised gang runs an extortion, illicit liquor, drugs and sex racket from ‘sleaze’ station.
The stamp of the crime lords is most evident at the taxi stand after 10 pm, where hundreds of passengers are soft targets for the crooked cabbies. “This has become a regular feature here, and there is no one to help us,” lamented Dutta, a recent victim.
Some taxi drivers revealed how the two GRP booths located at the taxi stand amounted to nothing.
“At best, they keep an eye on the traffic till 10 pm, after which they disappear. They make a token appearance once in a while,” said Sheikh Ali Hossain, a taxi driver outside the railway station.
“We have not received any complaints till date. When we do, we will take stern action against the culprits,” asserted a GRP official.
Sealdah, of course, has no pre-paid taxi booth, and the cabbies, inspired by criminals operating from the premises, are busy fleecing passengers in the dark.
Passengers have to queue up at the taxi stand and are allotted cabs by the local goons. Between the platforms and the taxi stand, an army of touts ambushes prospective passengers, dissuading them from waiting in line.
After 10 pm, sex workers and drug peddlers stalk the Sealdah taxi stand. Cabs provide cover on wheels for Rs 200.
A few months ago, Metro had highlighted the taxi trauma undergone by passengers at Howrah Station after the pre-paid taxi booth would down shutters at 10 pm.
Now, the cab counter is kept open all night and the GRP has sharpened its vigil to good effect.
But at 16-platform Sealdah, there’s no visible way out of the passenger peril at night.
Police, of course, promise action. Nazrul Islam, inspector-general (rail), said he would look into the matter, take stern action against the criminals and urge the taxi associations to help clean up the mess.