Sheikh Abdul Selim, the driver who was arrested, with the bus in the background. Picture by Soumen Bhattacharjee
The conductor of a private bus took the wheel from the driver, forcing passengers to intervene and bring it to a halt on VIP Road on Sunday afternoon. The conductor fled but the driver, sitting next to him, was handed over to police.
“We could make out a novice was at the wheel. We did not want to take chances and forced the driver to stop,” said Sushanta Ghosh, who boarded the bus at Kankurgachhi.
Sensing trouble, Sil jumped off the driver’s cabin and ran away. The passengers caught Selim before he could escape and turned him in.
“There could have been a major mishap had we not reacted collectively. Sil was braking unnecessarily and driving rashly,” said Monimoy Dutta, another passenger.
The conductor drove the bus from the Thakurpukur depot to Maidan, where he handed over the steering to Selim. Sil took over again near Kankurgachhi, said Tanmay Mukherjee, who was going to Baguiati.
The passengers started screaming when the bus’s engine died and it started rolling backwards on the slope of the bridge near the Ultadanga crossing. “The person at the steering just could not start the engine,” said Ghosh.
That the conductor at the front gate was repeatedly asking Sil about the fare to charge passengers convinced them that a conductor was driving the bus.
“When the bus started speeding on VIP Road, we could not take it any more,” said Mukherjee, who was among those who forced the vehicle to a stop near Lake Town, a few hundred metres from the spot where a bus plunged into a canal, killing 21 people earlier this month.
Selim was detained and fined Rs 2,100. As there is no provision in the law to punish a driver for handing over the steering to a person without a driving licence, he was booked for rash driving and violating traffic signals.
According to a senior police officer, conductors often learn driving in this manner. Swapan Sarkar, who was driving the bus that plunged into Lower Bagjola Canal on April 4, was a conductor who picked up driving from a colleague.
“Most drivers of public transport do not have formal training. We are trying to address the issue by joining hands with the police,” said Chapal Banerjee, the regional transport officer of Barasat.
His office and North 24-Parganas police plan to hold workshops and training sessions.