A Salt Lake couple looking for transport to return home from the heart of the city on Sunday night learnt that rogue taxi drivers are a law unto themselves because the cops are allegedly there to help them, not the ones being harassed.
Somaditya Kar, a 29-year-old IT engineer with an MNC in Sector V, and wife Sinjini, also a techie employed with another company, had returned from Jamshedpur by train around 9.40pm and taken a bus to Esplanade after being unable to find a prepaid taxi.
The couple got off the bus near Metro cinema at 10.05pm. There were several taxis around but none that would go to Salt Lake. Some of the drivers dared them to complain to the police when they protested.
Little did Somaditya and Sinjini know that their relief at sighting two policemen on duty would soon turn into disappointment and then despair.
The couple reached home at 11.20pm after agreeing to pay a driver an extra Rs 50, a deal that was struck in front of an officer who had moments earlier claimed it was not his duty to help people hail taxis.
Somaditya, still awaiting action on a complaint posted on Calcutta police’s Facebook page, narrates his harassment and humiliation to Metro the day after.
We got off the train in Howrah and headed straight for the prepaid taxi counter, where the queue of passengers was long but there was not a single taxi for hire.
My wife suggested we go to Esplanade, where finding a taxi would be easier. So we took a bus to the city centre, where as expected we found five taxis parked in front of Metro cinema.
I approached all five but they refused to go to Salt Lake, citing some reason or the other. When persuasion didn’t work, we got into a taxi and refused to get off until the driver dropped us home.
He asked us to step out, saying he would only go towards Bhowanipore. I refused. He started abusing us.
I threatened to lodge a complaint and he started laughing. He pointed to two cops across the road and asked me to go and complain to them.
His gumption took me by surprise. I decided to teach him a lesson. I got off the taxi and started shouting in the direction of the policemen, hoping to catch their attention. One of them — thin, dark-complexioned and in a full-sleeve blue sweater — crossed the road to reach us.
I told him that the driver was not only refusing to take us home but also abusing us. I thought that would be enough reason for the cop to either book the driver immediately or order him to take us home. He spoke for the driver instead. He said after 8pm, a driver had every right to choose where he would go and where he wouldn’t.
I protested, saying there was no such rule. The cop insisted there was.
As if on cue, the emboldened driver started complaining that we had abused him instead of the other way around. The cop asked us to vacate the taxi. My wife got scared and came out immediately. The driver sped away.
I noted down the taxi number — WB 04D 0740 — and took a cellphone picture of the policeman. I said I would lodge a complaint against him.
He just smiled and said his senior was across the road, just in case I wanted to lodge the complaint immediately. He said I could also make a complaint at the toll-free number 1073.
I crossed the road and narrated to the officer how his young colleague had behaved with us. The officer — tall, stout and clean-shaven — asked me to calm down. He said what his junior did was right.
I couldn’t believe this was happening to us in the heart of the city. “It is too late to get a taxi,” the officer quipped.
I said we were ready to pay the night charge, at which he told me that there was a separate fleet of taxis operating as “night cars”. When I said it was the police’s duty to help citizens in distress, the officer said: “This is not my job. We are not here to hail taxis for you.”
My wife dragged me away lest I continue arguing with the cops. After another 10 minutes of searching, we found a taxi driver who agreed to take us to Salt Lake’s BB Block if we paid him Rs 50 extra. We agreed.
As we were leaving, the officer came up to us and said: “Sabdhane jaben aar kono osubidhe hole bolben (have a safe journey and do inform us if you face any problem).”
I iterated my decision to complain against him and his colleague. He flashed a smile and said: “No one will believe you. You will not find any witnesses.”
I reached home at 11.20pm and immediately lodged a complaint on the Facebook page of Calcutta traffic police. I also mailed a complaint to the deputy commissioner of the traffic department and the commissioner of city police.
I had expected a quick response but nobody has called (till late on Monday). Maybe the officer was right. Nobody would believe me.