Pawn in the game
Sir — Ours is an independent organization engaged in monitoring and carrying out research on road transport and the automotive industry. We have been assisting the government on various committees and panels on the road transport industry. After reading reports on Gurjant Singh, his economic status and his family’s difficulty in pursuing the case in distant West Bengal, our organization approached the truck transport associations in the state to take up the matter relating to Singh’s detention so that legal aid could be provided immediately. The response, however, has been lukewarm and the driver is still languishing in police custody.
Singh, as reports say, is a truck driver who supports a large family on his meagre income. It appears that the truck owner and the truckers’ unions in West Bengal fear that there may be political reprisals if they were to intervene to seek Singh’s release. The national-level bodies of transport operators — All India Motor Transport Congress, All India Transporters Welfare Association and All-India Confederation of Goods Vehicle Owners’ Association — do not seem to be perturbed by the excesses committed against a poor truck driver because he owns neither a transport firm nor a truck. It is normal for truck drivers to be ill-treated by a majority of the transport firms and fleet owners. An overwhelming number of drivers and crew members are not unionized, and are therefore treated shabbily. They are not paid the minimum wage and other social security benefits according to prevailing laws such as the Motor Transport Workers Act 1961.
Under these circumstances, we seek the attention of the National Human Rights Commission with the plea that the matter be taken up with the West Bengal government so that Gurjant Singh is released at the earliest. In the larger context, the commission could look into the condition of truck drivers and helpers/cleaners so that they get their rightful dues of minimum wage, medical leave, provident fund, ESI facilities and so on.
S.P. Singh, Senior Fellow and Coordinator, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training, Delhi
Sir — We live in a state and a city with the most abysmal conditions on the road and of lawless and unregulated traffic. Whose responsibility are these things, primarily? The government’s. And yet, while there is no sign at all of serious governance on these matters, or of accountability, it is interesting and dismaying how state politicians themselves disrupt traffic shamelessly so their cavalcades can jump the queue. Every day, for decades now, ordinary people have been dying on the roads, killed by drivers unrestricted by any kind of policing, and without any consequence for road safety. But now, a hapless truck driver, Gurjant Singh, is having his human rights flagrantly violated to appease the paranoia of a new political dispensation. One would have thought that the new saviour of the common man, Mamata Banerjee, would have quickly dismissed this absurd conspiracy theory — but perhaps she subsists on conspiracy theories?
Amit Chaudhuri, Calcutta
Sir — Gurjant Singh must be cursing himself for crossing the path of Mamata Banerjee’s convoy (“Experts’ brake heat on Gurjant,” Aug 21). The driver was clearly not aware of the ‘M’ factor. Already the air is thick with conspiracy theories. Such theories raise their ugly head whenever an incident related to the ‘M’ factor takes place, no matter how tenuous the link. Sections of the media that subscribe to such theories without caring to verify them are having a field day. Singh is the unfortunate victim of this circus. He will have to be the subject of public attention till the din subsides and another conspiracy is unearthed.
Srikanta Bhattacharjee, Calcutta
Sir — If morning shows the day then Mamata Banerjee’s indifference to the charge of attempted murder levelled against Gurjant Singh is an indicator of how far she and her party will go to exploit public sentiment to further their own political ends. If this state votes the Trinamul Congress to power in 2011, it should expect daily farces of this variety. Banerjee should have had the grace to accept the episode as a genuine accident. That way, the poor driver would have been spared his present agony.
V.K. Tankha, Calcutta
Sir — Gurjant Singh is being used as a pawn in a dirty political game. If an opportunity presents itself, Mamata Banerjee makes the most of it, even at the cost of marginalized people like Singh. It is obvious that a sinister plot has been hatched to whip up a mass frenzy against the ruling Left Front. In this particular case, the TMC seems to have crossed all limits of political decency.
What was more appalling was to see Sujato Bhadra, the human rights messiah, refusing to intervene on behalf of Singh on the pretext that the driver is in police custody. Is Bhadra evading action so as not to displease Banerjee?
Subhasish Ghosh, Calcutta