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10-day deadline for taxi fare hike

Taxi operators on Tuesday threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the state government did not increase fares within 10 days.

The major taxi operators’ unions — barring the Trinamul Congress-backed Progressive Taximen’s Union — wrote to the chief minister on Tuesday stating that they had waited long enough for a fare hike and would not wait more than 10 days. A copy of the letter was sent to transport minister Madan Mitra.

Three weeks ago, at Mamata Banerjee’s behest, the transport operators had decided to defer their agitation for a fare hike till after Lakshmi Puja, which was on Monday. In a meeting, the chief minister had persuaded the operators not to inconvenience people during the festive phase, covering Durga Puja, Id-ul-Zoha and Lakshmi Puja.

According to the operators, Mamata had assured them that she would meet them after Lakshmi Puja and consider their demand.

On her way out of Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday evening, the chief minister did not say when she would meet the operators.

“I will meet them when I have to meet them. That’s all for today,” said Mamata.

“Lakshmi Puja is over. It is time for the government to deliver on its promise. If a decision isn’t announced in our favour within 10 days, most of the 33,000 taxis in Calcutta will go off the road indefinitely,” said Bimal Guha, the president of the Bengal Taxi Association, to which nearly half the city taxis are affiliated.

Transport operators have been demanding an upward revision in fares since the new government took charge in May last year. Their movement gained momentum after the diesel price went up in Calcutta by Rs 5.85 a litre from September 14 to touch Rs 50.61. On Saturday, it went up further by 17 paise. The last time fares were hiked was in August 2008, after several rounds of diesel price increase. The price of diesel per litre was Rs 35.03 then.

“Every litre of diesel is dearer by Rs 15.75 since the last price hike. The government is aware of our position and knows that nothing but a fare hike can help us,” said Guha.

Bus and minibus operators are not setting deadlines yet.

“The chief minister had requested us to wait till Lakshmi Puja, which was yesterday. We can give her some more time. We don’t have a deadline in mind,” said Sadhan Das, the secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, to which nearly half the buses in the city are affiliated.

Bus and minibus operators feel there is “every reason” to be optimistic this time, despite the government’s repeated refusal to increase fare.

“There will be a meeting with the chief minister, possibly this week. The decision would be announced soon after. We have been quite hopeful since the last time we met her,” added Das.

Asked about the government’s plan of action, transport minister Madan Mitra declined comment, indicating that the final decision will be taken by Mamata soon.