The Trinamul rally in the city’s heart on Friday afternoon caused traffic pain on the southern fringe as thousands of autorickshaw drivers attended the ruling party’s event.
The Sanghati Diwas or Integration Day meeting, marking the 21st anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, was held on Mayo Road from 1pm to 4pm. Drivers affiliated to the party-run auto unions in Picnic Garden, Kasba, Bosepukur, Ruby Park and Garia did not ply their vehicles from 11am to 5pm as they took off early to the rally that chief minister Mamata Banerjee attended, among others.
No auto plied on the Ruby-Rashbehari connector and in Garia for close to six hours because the drivers took off early to the rally.
At some auto stands, the unions had put up notices announcing the unavailability of autos because of the rally. At the Lalkuthi auto stand in Picnic Garden, a hand-written note was pasted next to a photograph of chief minister Mamata Banerjee. It said all autos on the Lalkuthi-Gariahat route would be unavailable from 11am to 4pm.
Similar notices were found in parts of Garia and Kasba.
“I found at least 40 people waiting around 11am at the stand where the Lalkuthi-Gariahat autos start. I joined the queue and after 30 minutes I saw the notice pasted near the stand,” said Naba Datta, a Lalkuthi resident. Many commuters failed to notice the small note and kept waiting.
Residents said lack of regular bus service to Gariahat compounded the problem. “Autos are the only feeder service available. Cycle-rickshaws are the other option but costlier. Many rickshaws today demanded Rs 10 above the fare,” said Riya Dutta of Picnic Garden.
Adrita Ganguly, a researcher at Jadavpur University, said taxi drivers too took advantage. “I usually take an auto from Boral to Garia but couldn’t find one for 20 minutes today. A rickshaw-puller informed me that autos are off the roads till 4pm. So I hailed a cab and got fleeced. I had to pay Rs 120… more than the normal fare,” Ganguly said.
At 5pm, an hour after the supposed resumption time, only about half the fleet was on the roads in Kasba, Garia and Picnic Garden.
Though union leaders insisted that nobody was forced to attend the rally, some of the auto drivers said they had been informed about the event a month in advance.