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LPG hike drives autos off road

Some of the autos that were off the road lined up beside Deshapriya Park. (Bibhash Lodh)

Autorickshaws stayed off roads in several parts of the city on Thursday and fares have been raised on some routes in response to the LPG price hike of around Rs 12 a litre.

There was hardly any autorickshaw in Ballygunge and Behala in the south, and Ultadanga and Jorabagan in the north, forcing commuters to jostle for space on crowded buses.

Transport minister Madan Mitra said autos did not ply on 22 routes, mostly in south Calcutta. As many as 10,000 autos were off the road.

“I know autorickshaws didn’t ply on 22 routes today. I’ll do what is needed,” said Mitra, who has promised a crackdown on rule-flouting autos.

“We don’t want to raise the fares but we have been pushed to the brink. If the government doesn’t roll back the LPG price hike, we will be forced to raise fares,” said Ajay Shaw, an autorickshaw operator on the Gariahat-Rashbehari route.

Bus stops were teeming with commuters even around 2pm, an unusual sight on weekdays. The situation was worse in the evening.

Niladri Basu, who had come to Gariahat in the afternoon for shopping, had a nightmarish experience while returning home to Behala in the evening. “There was not a single auto. About 50 people were trying to get into a taxi. I waited for a bus for 30 minutes but all the buses were so crowded that I could not get into any,” he recounted.

In the afternoon, auto drivers from several routes in south Calcutta held a meeting at Deshapriya Park to decide their course of action. Sources said they failed to reach a consensus. “Some wanted to start an agitation by blocking roads, while others were in favour of requesting the government to roll back the LPG price hike,” said Md Zahid, an auto driver on the Gariahat-Park Circus route. Auto drivers said they would wait another month before launching a major protest. The services would be normal from Friday, said the operators.

The LPG price was raised by Rs 11.86 a litre on Wednesday. A litre of LPG costs around Rs 67 now. An auto runs close to 18km on one litre of LPG.

The retail prices rose because of a spike in international LPG prices over the past three months. It has also led to an increase in the price of non-subsidised cooking gas cylinders. Oil companies charge import parity prices on all other categories except subsidised domestic LPG.

“LPG producers like Saudi Aramco has hiked LPG contract prices in December by $275 — or Rs 17,130 — a tonne. Such hikes generally happen in winter. Domestic prices are reflecting this. However, the good news is LPG prices are going down now. Hopefully, prices of auto LPG and non-subsidised cooking gas will come down in February,” an oil industry executive said.

India requires 15 million tonnes of LPG. Out of this, 6 million tonnes are imported. The revenue loss public sector oil marketing companies had incurred last year on LPG sale was around Rs 39,558 crore.

Auto operators on some routes raised the fares to counter the rise in LPG prices. Commuters on the Park Circus-Esplanade route have been paying more — by Re 1 or Rs 2, depending on the distance travelled — since Wednesday.

Autos off road: 10,000

Routes affected: 22

Routes where autos went off road

• Ballygunge-Rashbehari
• Gariahat-Rashbehari
• Gariahat-Behala
• Ballygunge-Alipore Court
• Gariahat-Park Circus
• Ultadanga-Jorabagan
• Hazra-CIT Road
• Hazra-Tollygunge
One of the fare-hike routes
• Park Circus-Esplanade