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Day of reckoning for clean air campaign

Calcutta, July 31: Transporters today failed to get a Supreme Court stay on the ban on commercial vehicles over 15 years of age from August 1.

Calcutta should be able to breathe easy. But can it?

“Tomorrow would be a red-letter day for Calcuttans as it would mark the beginning of a new era. Years of struggle seem to be finally paying off,” green activist Subhash Dutta told The Telegraph.

The Calcutta High Court-ordered ban will take 2,557 buses, 510 minibuses, 6,355 taxis, nearly 300 contract carriages and around 75,000 goods carriages off the roads from tomorrow. The bigger impact will be on auto-rickshaws, around 70,000 (legal and illegal) of which will have to be discontinued for not running on LPG.

“You are challenging a 2008 order now?” a three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, asked when advocate Rani Chhabra, representing the operators, mentioned the matter before the bench this morning.

“No orders today. We will hear your petition on Tuesday (August 4),” added Justice Balakrishnan in response to the plea for a stay on the July 18, 2008, high court order.

The state administration, all through reluctant to enforce the order, now faces the dual challenge of implementing the ban and minimising the impact of it on commuters.

Till August 4, most unions representing the operators have decided to keep the banned vehicles off the streets.

“We are confident of a favourable (court) decision. We will decide our course of action on Tuesday,” said Trinamul leader Swarnakamal Saha, spokesperson for the Banijyik Paribahan Bachao Committee, the umbrella body of transport operators.

The success or otherwise of Operation Clean Air will depend on how the Opposition Trinamul Congress reacts. Trinamul activists and auto-rickshaw operators will bring out rallies across the city tomorrow to protest against the ban.

“Thousands of auto operators will become jobless. The state government did not co-operate by providing bank loans to the majority of them. Our leader Mamata Banerjee has asked us to stand by the auto operators,” said Sobhandev Chattopadhyay, spokesperson for the Auto Bachao Committee.

Mamata told STAR Ananda: “The law must be respected. But as a common citizen I feel it is the government’s failure that lakhs of people are about to lose their livelihood.

“The government must sit across the table with unions and draw up a practicable phase-out plan acceptable to all.”

The time for a phase-out is no longer available with the deadline passing.

Home secretary Ardhendu Sen claimed that “alternative arrangements are in place” to tackle the sudden drop in number of vehicles, but the transport department failed to provide details of the plan.

Transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury claimed that “extra public buses” would be pressed into service.

“It is not possible for us to compensate for over 3,000 buses and minibuses,” said a transport department source.

A police officer said that since the bus operators had decided not to bring out their vehicles till Tuesday, the focus of the crackdown would be on autos.

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