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Auto warning shifts to no-mercy gear

Discipline or perish: the government tells rule-breaking autowallahs to fall in line by January 7.

Gundami aar cholbe na (Enough of this rowdyism),” transport minister Madan Mitra said on Monday. “You can’t break routes arbitrarily and frame your own rules. The government will not sit back and tolerate all this. Under no condition can autos ply on main thoroughfares.”

The tough-talk, not a first though, was the result of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s apparent displeasure at the auto-raj in Calcutta. Sounding off autorickshaw operators to “discipline themselves” by January 7, Mitra said those found flouting rules would be fined Rs 5,000.

His department estimates around 65,000 autos — many of them illegal — ply in the city.

Most autowallahs have sworn their loyalty to Trinamul-led unions, an act of convenience rather than ideology because such an affiliation allegedly guarantees a shield from any crackdown against liberties on the road.

Sources said autorickshaw drivers often flout the bar on carrying more than four passengers, hiking fares on their own and deciding routes according to convenience.

Bulk of the three-wheelers ply on main thoroughfares such as Rashbehari Avenue and Diamond Harbour Road.

The autowallahs have become indispensable — and more brazen — on key routes of late because the bus service has thinned over the government’s reluctance to let the operators raise fares.

Mitra had waved the whip earlier too but always stopped short of cracking it. The minister’s previous no-no list says

■ no auto will carry more than four passengers at a time: one on the left alongside the driver and three at the rear

■ no loud music

■ no arbitrary hike in fare

■ no changing routes for their own convenience

■ no driver shall speak on cell phones while driving

■ must avoid main roads

Mitra could mean business this time because complaints about rowdy autos have been steadily reaching the chief minister. Or, as insiders say, it could be a way to earn upvotes for a department trying to show that it is “working hard to address the woes of auto passengers”.

Other than the no-mercy warning, Mitra said the government would introduce vehicles that can seat five or more. “We will issue permits to vehicles such as Tata Magic and mark the routes. The Hazra-Garia route will be the first. Fares will be fixed on the basis of demand.”