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Students caught in pool-car crossfire

Anurag Saraf waved goodbye to his two daughters at the door and walked up to the balcony to check if they had boarded their pool car safely, only to hear someone shouting at them to get off the vehicle.

“I craned my neck and saw a group of men forcing Pragya and Ipshita to alight. I hurried to their side and found out that the men were from a rival pool car association that was out to paralyse services across town. The incident left my daughters shaken,” recalled Saraf, a resident of Mandeville Gardens.

Scenes like these were played out across the city with schoolchildren bearing the brunt of the arm-twisting by a pool car union that has been trying to force the government to revoke the ban on commercially ferrying students by certain makes of vehicles.

“I received a call from my son’s pool car driver asking me to rush to Rashbehari Avenue. On reaching there, I found my son (South Point student Adarsh Bhargav) sitting in a sweet shop,” Pushpa Bhargav, a resident of Behala, told Metro.

In most of the incidents, students were caught in the crossfire between two unions.

Supporters of the Bengal Car Pool Welfare Association have been on strike since Friday to protest the government’s ban on ferrying schoolchildren by Maruti Omni, Tata Magic and Tata Winger vehicles, but the Pool Car Owners’ Welfare Association has declined to join the protest.

The Bengal Car Pool Welfare Association had issued a statement on Sunday, threatening to stop pool cars from plying on the road on Monday.

Anticipating trouble, many members of the Pool Car Owners’ Welfare Association decided to stay off the road on Monday. Those who chose to defy the diktat were waylaid on various roads.

Sources confirmed at least nine incidents of pool cars belonging to one association being stopped by members of the other through Monday. Most of these occurred on Gariahat Road, Ballygunge Circular Road and Park Circus. Neither officials of the transport department nor the police were around to restore normality.

“This is an internal matter of the associations,” a transport official said, washing his hands of the conflict.

A delegation from the Pool Car Owners’ Welfare Association, led by secretary Abir Roy, met transport minister Ranjit Kundu and a senior official of the chief minister’s office on Monday evening. The team emerged from the meeting with an assurance from the government that steps would be taken to ensure its members were not attacked for opposing the strike.

“All our members will return to work on Tuesday,” Roy said.

Although opposed to the strike, Roy insisted that the ban on using the Maruti Omni as a pool car was “impractical”.

“Nearly 2,700 of the 5,000-odd pool cars in the city are Maruti Omnis. If Omnis are stopped, pool cars will become extinct,” he said.

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