Passengers on way to Siliguri bargain over the fare with the driver of a vehicle in Jalpaiguri. (Biplab Basak)
Alipurduar, July 2: More than 10,000 passengers were today caught unawares as bus owners called a sudden strike in Jalpaiguri district to protest the slapping of Section 304 on a rogue driver.
On Wednesday afternoon, a private bus collided with an auto-rickshaw at Damanpur killing five persons, including a three-year-old boy.
Nearly 5,000 passengers alone travel on the Jalpaiguri-Siliguri route every day. The 70 private buses on the route had been taken off today and so were the 20 buses on the Alipurduar-Siliguri route, affecting another 2,000 passengers. While few availed of the government buses, some travelled by train or covered a 40-km distance by jeep till Falakata before hiring other small vehicles to reach Siliguri and Jalpaiguri. The Alipurduar-Jalpaiguri route has around 1,500 passengers and 20 buses were off the route. On the Cooch Behar-Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar-Siliguri routes, not less than 3,000 passengers were affected.
Last year, an expert committee the government had set up to look into the rise in road accidents had recommended that both Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 304A (death due to negligence) be applied against killer drivers. The recommendation was that a rule be established to have both sections in place. However, the CPM-led government failed to implement the recommendation because of stiff resistance from the party’s labour arm, Citu.
Absence of a rule, however, cannot prevent the police from booking any driver on an individual basis. In this case, the Alipurduar police booked Ajay Kanti, the driver of the bus (WB-719073) under Section 304. He was produced in the court of additional chief judicial magistrate of Alipurduar yesterday and was remanded in jail custody for 14 days.
Bus workers have told the owners that since there was no “security” (from law) for them, they will rather “pull the rickshaw”.
Debobrata Sarkar, the secretary of Jalpaiguri Dooars Minibus Owners’ Association, said: “Yesterday, the staff of the buses, mainly drivers, came to me and said that they would pull rickshaw. No driver intentionally kills any person or any animal, but this case started with Section 304. Surprisingly the auto-rickshaw was carrying seven passengers while it is supposed to ferry only four at a time.”
Sarkar said the district administration was blind to the small illegal vehicles plying the national highway. “But we are sorry we could not inform the common people on time about the strike.”
“On every route, auto-rickshaws and jeeps always carry excess passengers. While an auto-rickshaw carries more than 10 passengers, jeep carries more than 20 but the administration is silent,” Sarkar said.
Reacting to the allegation, Anurag Srivastav, the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, said: “We conduct frequent raids but we plan to increase the number to stop more illegal vehicles.”
Two youths, who had to reach Jalpaiguri 110km away, to attend the interview for recruitment of primary school teachers, said they were in a dilemma when they heard about the strike.
“Our interview was to start from 2pm in Jalpaiguri. I was surprised when I went to the bus stand in Alipurduar and came to know that private buses were not plying. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. The government buses were so crowded. Then four of us who had been called for the interview hired a car. We reached Jalpaiguri just five minutes before the interview. We had to shell out Rs 1,500, ” said Chayan Majhi over the phone from Jalpaiguri. The bus fare from Alipurduar to Jalpaiguri is Rs 60.