The driver of the trailer that smashed a stationary Tata Sumo Victa with nine men inside at the Vidyasagar Setu toll plaza two months ago was underage when he got a licence to drive heavy vehicles.
Investigators probing the crash that killed five of the nine passengers — all of them employees of a private firm returning home from work — used an ossification test to confirm that driver Rupesh Yadav was not 18 years of age when the Beltola office of the public vehicles department (PVD) gave him a driving licence.
“Rupesh looked too young to be a trailer driver. On checking his driving licence, we found that it was issued eight years ago. The test result confirmed our suspicion that he was not eligible for a licence at that time,” an officer said.
An ossification test determines the approximate age of a person based on the fusion of joints in the body. The test may not be precise but it does provide a range of plus or minus two that helps authenticate a person’s age.
Rupesh’s current age has been found to be between 22 and 25, which means he could not have legally procured a driving licence eight years ago. “Even if we take the higher limit of 25 as his real age, he was not a day older than 17 when he got that licence. It is all the more shocking because the licence entitles Rupesh to drive a heavy vehicle like the multi-wheel trailer with which he rammed into the car,” the officer said.
Rupesh was driving a loaded trailer carrying a consignment for the global freight container company GE SeaCo on August 24 when it ploughed into the Tata Sumo Victa in the queue at the toll plaza. The victims were all employees of a firm owned by Mohun Bagan official Debashis Dutta, who also owned the smashed car.
Rupesh fled after the incident but police arrested him in the port area the next day and booked him for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The ossification test was conducted at Calcutta Medical College and Hospital after police got custody in mid-September, said deputy commissioner of traffic police Dilip Banerjee.
Armed with the test report, the police intend extending the probe to the PVD. “We need to investigate who in the PVD issued the licence. It’s a criminal offence to endanger the lives of others by allowing an underage driver to sit at the wheel. If the licence is found to be forged, cheating will be added to the list of charges,” an investigator said.
Lalbazar has already asked all police stations to look out for underage lorry and trailer drivers during routine checks.
“The number of lorry drivers without proper training is shocking. We know one when we see him. But how can you penalise someone who flaunts a licence? Our hands are tied,” rued an officer.
Does that mean drivers with licences procured illegally will continue to enjoy a free run?
According to the police, the unholy nexus between PVD officials and touts — Metro has published several reports highlighting how one can get a licence without ever holding the steering wheel — must be broken for the roads to be safer.
“It is the PVD that is allowing people to drive vehicles without being qualified to do so. These untrained drivers then claim lives on the road. The buck stops at the PVD as far as illegal licences are concerned,” said a sergeant.