The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bandhs done, it's a rash of rallies

Calcutta, Dec. 4: After three bandhs in a row against the petrol price rise, Calcutta is getting ready for a month of rallies and roadblocks in the countdown to the New Year.

The protests will be double-barrelled ' while political outfits demand a rollback of the price rise, transporters will seek a hike in fares.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has come out in support of the agitations planned, saying: 'Their demand is fully justified.'

The SFI and the DYFI, the student and youth wings of the ruling CPM, will set the protest ball rolling with rallies and street-corner meetings in Chetla, Hazra and elsewhere in south Calcutta.

The SUCI, the first to call a Bengal bandh on the issue on November 17, is staying on the job with plans to resort to law violation. The Opposition Trinamul Congress will follow suit, as it did with the bandh. If the Centre does not slash fuel prices, the SUCI also plans a year-end march to Writers' Buildings.

Transport owners have decided to hitch on to the protest bandwagon. 'We will launch rallies, road blockades and demonstrations from next week, demanding a bus fare hike. If the government does not heed our demand, we will go for a strike,' Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha said.

Another organisation of bus and minibus operators, the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate, will announce its programme in a couple of days. 'We will withdraw buses if the government does not hike bus fares. We have no intention to cause inconvenience to commuters. But we cannot remain idle when our earnings are steadily falling,' said council president Sadhan Das.

Chakraborty hinted at a fare hike if the Centre does not bring down fuel prices. 'I shall soon sit with the transport owners to discuss the matter and hope to take a decision very soon,' the minister said.

Fares were last revised in June, when the minimum bus and minibus tickets were fixed at Rs 3 and Rs 3.50. The owners are now demanding Rs 5 as the minimum fare and an increase of Re 1 for every subsequent stage. Taxi operators belonging to the Bengal Taxi Association are asking for the minimum fare to be raised to Rs 17 with an increase of Rs 1.70 for every 200 metres.

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