■ How can auto drivers drive past cops with five or six passengers?
■ Why don’t we ever see an auto driver being booked for an offence?
Questions that every Calcuttan might have wanted to ask had flown thick and fast at Calcutta Traffic Police’s first interaction with its Facebook followers on June 18, prompting the officers present to make a promise for every query.
Auto drivers, they said, would no longer enjoy immunity from prosecution for flouting road rules meant to bring a semblance of method to Calcutta’s traffic madness.
More than a month later, nobody seems to know how many cases for road violations have since been slapped on auto drivers. What’s known is that auto-cracy continues to thrive on the streets of the city, highlighted by Metro since last Thursday when Liza and Sandip Biswas were assaulted on Sarat Bose Road for standing up to an auto driver’s alleged bullying.
The main accused surrendered the next afternoon and walked out on bail within three hours. His woman accomplice and another auto driver did likewise on Sunday and got bail without spending a minute in lock-up.
The acting chief judicial magistrate who heard the bail petitions on Sunday gave voice to Liza’s anger and the city’s frustration by questioning why the police didn’t press stronger charges, including abduction.
On Tuesday, several police officers blamed Liza for the incident, saying she should not have “misbehaved” with the main accused, Vikas Shah, after he allegedly grazed his auto against her Indigo Manza at a traffic signal.
Liza and her husband were both allegedly assaulted by Vikas and his friends in front of other motorists and a home guard on duty, after which she was forced into an auto and driven off to a secluded lane to be attacked again.
“The woman created all the trouble. She hit the auto driver and then misbehaved with him,” a traffic cop said.
So does that absolve Vikas and his driver friends of any wrongdoing? The police’s actions (or the lack of it) in the case speak louder than words.
The police’s attitude towards complainants like Liza and the latitude they give the auto drivers have a political history.
The erstwhile Left Front government had introduced the auto fleet that this city now cannot do without back in the Eighties to tackle unemployment. The auto drivers soon became the foot soldiers of the CPM-led Left Front, earning them immunity from police action for breaking any rule.
The last 14 months have proved that even a change of guard after 34 years can’t take away the auto driver’s clout.
“We are unable to take action against autos because of political pressure,” said a sergeant at Ultadanga Traffic Guard.
“There is a pressing need to form public opinion against them,” added an officer.
Every year, around 600 people die in accidents on Calcutta roads, many of them triggered by traffic violations.
“If the police wait for the public to rise against road rogues, can the city roads ever be safe?” demanded Asish Chowdhury, the youth who had saved a victim of reckless driving on AJC Bose Road flyover in August 2011.
What can be done to tame rogue auto drivers? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org