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Honey, guess whose car I cited today

Calcutta, Dec. 13: Bitten by a traffic violation challan in the mailbox, many unsuspecting Calcuttans are known to exclaim: “But my car was not there then!”

Imagine then the plight of the frequent occupant of three cars with the numbers WB 20U 1983, WB 06 4568 and WB 02U 4397. As many as 40 alleged minor traffic violation citations by Calcutta traffic police are pending against the i10, the Scorpio and the Santro.

The frequent occupant of the cars answers to the name of Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal.

The i10 is registered in the name of a Sanjay Raut, a resident of Behala, according to police sources. (One Sanjay Raut, who works as a confidential assistant to Calcutta mayor Sovan Chatterjee, confirmed the full address but denied owning any such car or receiving any challan. “In fact, I do not have any four-wheeler,” Raut said.)

The Scorpio is registered in the name of the WB Trinamul Congress, 36G, Topsia Road, Kolkata-700039, according to police records.

The Santro is registered in the name of All India Trinamul Congress, 30B, Harish Chatterjee Street, Kolkata-700026, according to records. Trinamul general secretary Mukul Roy could not be contacted till late tonight to verify the information.

The alleged traffic violations date back to at least May 2011 when the Trinamul Congress came to power.

The lists of “unpaid citation cases” are uploaded on the city traffic police website. Details can be accessed by punching in registration and chassis numbers. The facility has been put in place for online payment of the fines.

There is no indication yet that the chief minister or any of her aides is aware of such citations and that they have been presented with evidence that the minor violations had indeed taken place.

In the case of the three cars, a column mentions ‘P’, which denotes “pending”. ‘C’ will mean “sent to learned court” and ‘M’ “case lying at minor traffic violation cell”.

The letter ‘P’ also suggests that the traffic department has not taken the next step of sending challans to the owners till yesterday in the case of two cars and till last week in the case of one . If it is indeed so, it will mean that the owners have not been given a chance to defend themselves although some of the alleged violations are over two years old.

Usually, a citation results in a challan to the owner, which can be challenged before a senior officer or the fine can be paid. If the fine is not paid, the matter is expected to reach the court in two months — in which case the website should have shown the letter ‘C’.

Many Calcuttans complain in private but they do not have the time to pursue the matter. So they end up paying fines ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 300.

On the three cars, whose alleged violations will entail a combined fine of Rs 9,450 if proved, the police do not appear to have moved yet.

“The list of offences includes violation of traffic signals, central line violation, stop-line violation and parking the vehicle in a manner that would create problems for other road users. The cases were recorded between May 23, 2011, and December 9, 2013,” said a senior officer.

In reply to a question, Soumen Mitra, the special commissioner-II who supervises the traffic department, said: “Please talk to DC traffic.”

Dilip Adak, the deputy commissioner (traffic), said: “We are not aware of this. In the case of citation cases, we directly send a notice to the offender, wait for a month or so if there is no reply and then forward the case to the court.”

The chief minister’s convoy shuns the usual paraphernalia of power. Although privileges such as a green channel are extended to VIPs by convention, Mamata has asked the police not to make any exception to the rules when she is travelling.

The chief minister almost always sits in the front seat — which makes it hard for a policeman on duty to miss her — and the convoy’s movement is conveyed over wireless through the road to keep the police on toes.

“It is a bit difficult to imagine a police officer on duty knowingly register a citation case against vehicles that the chief minister rides. We are clueless about what might have prompted such citations,” said an officer.

Calcuttans who have been hit with similar citations are clueless, too.

A police officer tried to explain: “We receive hundreds of letters every day from people complaining of wrong citation. Chances are that the mistakes, if at all true, are either accidental or intentional.”

No one would confirm on record what the officer meant by “intentional” mistake. “Traffic constables are under tremendous pressure to file cases and generate revenue. Constables do not have too many powers. They have only citation cases to meet the revenue target prescribed by their superiors,” said an officer.

On average, each traffic constable is expected to record 450 citations a month, failing which the person risks the chance of losing the road slot that is considered a “lucrative” posting.

This theory may explain why some people receive challans citing cars in places they can’t recall having passed through. It also throws up the question whether the chief minister’s cars, too, got caught in the random fines the police apparently impose just to meet the quota.

Citation involves a process. When a constable or an assistant sub-inspector spots a vehicle violating a traffic norm, he or she manually notes down the number in a citation book and deposits it at the traffic guard at the end of the day. The citations are then uploaded to a server that can be centrally accessed from the traffic computer cell at Lalbazar within 24 hours.

The details can also be accessed by the minor traffic violation (MTV) cell at Lalbazar. The cell issues a notice or what is commonly known as a challan to the owner of the vehicle within a fortnight or a month of the date of citation.

The fine can be manually submitted at the MTV cell in Lalbazar, paid online or deposited at specific banks prescribed in the challan.

However, if the accused does not respond to the notice within a stipulated time ranging from a fortnight to a month, a second reminder is sent. A no-response to the second reminder results in the transfer of the case to the court. “Then it becomes the discretion of the court to take necessary action,” said an officer.

Although some of the key information can be erased from the computer network, the details remain in the citation books that are expected to be stored at the respective traffic guards after the data is transferred online.