The Mamata Banerjee government on Sunday announced a crackdown on illegal pool cars and buses.
The owners of pool cars and buses operating without the mandatory permit to use their vehicles for commercial purposes had been given a six-month ultimatum on March 8 to get their vehicles registered. The deadline is September 7.
“If hauled up before September 7, the owners of these vehicles will be fined Rs 10,000. After the deadline, we are not going to enforce fines. We will straightaway cancel their registration. We are going to do whatever is required to stop this menace,” transport minister Madan Mitra said.
Official estimates suggest around 40,000 pool cars and buses ply on the city’s roads, flouting all guidelines.
The majority ferries schoolchildren and violates a number of guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court for such vehicles.
It’s mandatory for such vehicles to have first-aid kits, to display the name of the school whose kids they are ferrying and, above all, possess the permit to ferry schoolchildren. An escort must accompany the kids and the drivers should have a minimum of five years’ experience.
Illegal contract carriages follow none of the guidelines and there have been instances of accidents caused by trainee drivers.
“We have found that approximately 40,000 unlicensed contract carriages, including pool cars used in schools as well as shuttle cars, are in use in and around Calcutta. They have been given enough time to register their vehicles. We are not going to tolerate this any more. A crackdown is going to take place and we are going to be very strict,” Mitra warned.
The state transport department has initiated action in the past but without success.
A crackdown was launched after a woman was raped in a shuttle car she boarded at the Exide crossing in June last year. The operation lost momentum in a few days.
In spite of the risks, tens of thousands of people use illegal pool cars because of the poor public transport system.
“Shuttle taxis are the only option after I get out of office late in the evening. I know they are unsafe but do I have a choice?” said Kamalika Guha, a senior executive with an advertising agency in Sector V.
The government’s commitment to weed out unauthorised pool cars and buses could further shrink transport options in the city.
Mitra said: “We understand that a problem might arise if all the illegal vehicles are taken off the roads within a short period of time. That is the reason why we have been repeatedly urging the owners to register their vehicles. The government also stands to gain by earning revenue.”
Earlier this year, the transport department had offered to waive off penalties if pool car owners came forward to register their vehicles. In three months since the offer, only about 20 applicants turned up at the public vehicle department’s Beltala office.
Officials at the transport department said they were not empowered to take action when the operators chose to disobey them and suggested that parents should take a collective decision and stop sending their children to school in such vehicles.
“The department does not have the infrastructure required to carry out a massive clampdown. We need support from the police. This is something that we have not got till now,” an official said.
Mitra said he would meet the director-general of police and the commissioner of Calcutta police on Monday to discuss the modalities of the crackdown. Senior transport officials said the department would launch the crackdown by seizing documents of illegal pool cars.
Police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha said a meeting has been convened with the transport department on vehicles carrying passengers illegally.
“We will assist the transport department officials during the raids,” Kar Purkayastha said. “Besides, our drive will continue across the city.”