|Policemen check the permit of an auto-rickshaw at Kutchery Chowk, Ranchi, on Wednesday, while 45 students of Ursuline Convent, packed in a small van, bear the brunt of fewer public vehicles on road. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
The intention was good, the implementation poor.
The Ranchi district administration did win brownie points with Jharkhand High Court by grounding more than 5,000 smoke-belching and ageing auto-rickshaws in the capital from August 1, but at the cost of commuter ordeal. The 55 city buses and less than 6,000 auto-rickshaws that remained on road were glaringly inadequate to handle passenger pressure.
Wednesday began with office-goers and schoolchildren jostling for a toehold on board one of the few and infrequent city buses. Auto-rickshaws with valid permits were crammed beyond capacity, while the illegal ones were caught in action by extra vigilant traffic policemen.
By 4.30pm, the administration had seized at least 40 offending three-wheelers, most of which made daring attempts to ply in Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) areas without valid permits.
A sizeable number of the other ageing 5,700 three-wheelers did not ply in sheer fear of action, said a traffic constable at New Police Line, where the seized vehicles were parked.
Good things done and said, the administration’s wisdom in cracking down on the capital’s already fragile public transport system without making even stopgap arrangements to ferry commuters remains questionable.
Schoolchildren, many of whom are dependent on the more economic auto-rickshaws than bus services offered by their respective cradles, were helpless victims.
As many as 45 children of Ursuline Convent were found crammed into a van with a capacity of only 22 at Radium Chowk on Circular Road around 4pm.
Alert traffic policemen stopped the vehicle provided by East Point School. DSP (traffic) R.N. Singh asked the driver why he was carrying more than double the capacity. He said absence of auto-rickshaws on roads would otherwise inconvenience children.
The DSP asked the driver to drop the students at their respective destinations and report to him.
Besides children, women too bore the brunt. Most were unable to board overcrowded buses. “Even autos are packed. I could barely sit,” said homemaker Jyotsana Mazumdar as she got off an auto-rickshaw at Lalpur Chowk.
A visitor from Calcutta and her two family members also had a harrowing time waiting for conveyance to Kanke. “The public transport system in this city is horrible. I did not get a bus from the station. I boarded a prepaid auto, which was again seized near Radium Chowk for not having a permit. I was left in the lurch in an unknown place,” she said.
SP (traffic) Chandrashekhar Prasad, who proceeded on a two-day leave after ordering proper implementation of the high court directive, admitted commuter inconvenience, but said he had no option.
“The order was issued in May for 25,000 vehicles, including autos that are 10 years old and commercial vehicles that are 15 years old,” he added.
The Jharkhand State Tourism Development Corporation (JSTDC), which operates city buses, was expected to help citizens tide over the crisis.
Managing director Sunil Kumar said there was a proposal to increase the number of city buses. “It will done soon according to requirement and after a meeting with the deputy commissioner and RMC chief executive officer.”
He did not provide a time frame. So, commuters can brace for a tough road ahead.