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Madan on patrol, auto driver assaults lady

Calcutta, Jan. 25: An auto-rickshaw driver allegedly grabbed a lady passenger by her throat following a spat over change at New Alipore today around the time transport minister Madan Mitra was out on the streets trying to rein in rogue auto drivers a few kilometres away.

Mitra apparently decided to step out a day after discussing errant auto drivers with police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha at Lalbazar. His intention was to take stock of how the three-wheelers were flouting rules and to send a stern message ahead of an INNTUC convention of auto drivers tomorrow.

“Auto operators are forcing the government to crack the whip,” Mitra said. “If things continue like this, we might have to ask commuters to hit the streets and help police tackle auto drivers.”

Solanki Sengupta, 27, did go to the police this morning when an auto driver allegedly tried to throttle her after she gave him a 50-rupee note for a ride that costs Rs 6.

She lodged an FIR with New Alipore police station mentioning the last four digits of the auto’s registration number. Hours later, driver Bapi Singh, 32, was arrested.

“When I gave the driver a Rs 50 note, he told me to get change from somewhere else. When I protested, he grabbed me by the throat and tried to throttle me,” alleged Sengupta, a resident of Behala who works in Park Circus.

The police said Sengupta, who was on the right side of the rear seat, jumped off the auto as she was being attacked. Another auto driver gave her change for Rs 50, and Bapi left after being paid.

“There might be a debate on whether a passenger should give a 50-rupee note for a Rs 6 auto ride but that does not mean the driver should assault her. He could have alerted a nearby traffic cop and asked for a solution instead of trying to throttle the passenger,” a senior traffic department official said.

The police arrested Bapi at his home in S.N. Roy Road in Behala. He was charged with a murder attempt after minister Mitra learnt about the alleged incident and instructed the police to take “stern action”.

Mitra’s intervention helped bring Bapi to book but the minister’s tour of parts of Hazra Road, Kalighat, Rashbehari Avenue and Gariahat left many auto passengers wondering if this was the right way of tackling the auto raj in the city.

“Auto drivers know they would receive their union’s support if traffic-violation cases are slapped on them,” said Anandi Chatterjee of Phoolbagan.

“Unless this political patronage is stopped and the police are allowed to crack the whip, it would be difficult to rein in auto drivers.”

Mitra, who today said passengers could call up 1073 at Lalbazar to lodge complaints against autos, was taken aback to learn that the auto driver who ran over Ashutosh Sengupta, a 69-year-old retired engineer, on Tuesday was out on bail.

The minister, who visited the Ramgarh home of Ashutosh, said he would enquire how the driver got bail and why he had not been booked under a non-bailable section.