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Pollutant van on permit road

A motorised cycle van or vano

Calcutta, Oct. 21: The state government has decided to issue route permits to motorised cycle vans or vanos, which run on the toxic fuel cocktail katatel, raising environmental concerns when Calcutta has been crowned the most polluted among metros.

Sources said the transport department rushed through file seeking legalisation of vanos across the state and got the Partha Chatterjee-headed group of ministers on transport to approve it before sending it to chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

“It is just a matter of time before she (Mamata) clears it,” an official said.

Vanos are three-wheeled cycle-vans fitted with engines. They are not recognised under the Motor Vehicles Act but are a common mode of transport for people and goods in the districts. They run on katatel, a mix of diesel, kerosene and methane which releases noxious pollutants.

Calcutta High Court had in an order issued about two years ago ruled that three-wheeled vehicles running only on LPG or CNG could ply in the greater Calcutta, which spans up to Kalyani in Nadia.

Around 65,000 vanos still operate in the districts, both close to Calcutta and as far away as Cooch Behar.

“This (the decision) might bring in political gains but it would strike a severe blow to our air. Using adulterated fuel would only add poison to the city’s air, which is already heavily polluted,” green activist Subhash Dutta said.

Asked about the decision to allow route permits to vanos, both Chatterjee and transport minister Madan Mitra declined comment.

According to sources, vano operators in parts of North and South 24-Parganas, East Midnapore, Nadia and Cooch Behar had been pressuring Trinamul leaders for legalising the motorised cycle vans.

In May this year, some 12,000 vano operators brought parts of central Calcutta to a halt by blocking Lenin Sarani.

Sources said the pressure from the vano drivers, most of whom are Trinamul supporters, prompted the decision to issue route permits without getting vanos registered.

“According to the basic draft that has been drawn up, vano drivers would be provided with route permits. But they will not have licences. Technically, they don’t come under any form of motorised vehicle,” a senior transport department official said.

Officials said local panchayats would issue the route permits to those willing to ply vanos. In urban areas, the permits would be given by municipalities.

The panchayats and the municipalities will decide on the routes and fix the number of passengers to be ferried in each vano. An operator would have to pay Rs 500 as permit fee.