A 17-year-old boy seated to the right of the driver in an autorickshaw illegally carrying five passengers had his left toe sliced off in an accident on Sunday night.
Sheikh Imran was returning to his home near Sealdah in an auto when a two-wheeler coming from the opposite direction hit the right side of the vehicle, causing it to overturn.
“I was in the front seat, to the right of the driver. There were four other passengers. The motorbike hit us from the opposite direction and the auto turned over on its left side,” Imran, a school dropout who is learning to drive, told Metro.
He recounts one of the tyres of the motorcycle going over his left toe, after which the pain was so excruciating that he doesn’t remember anything else.
The teenager, who is undergoing treatment at SSKM Hospital, also suffered a fracture.
The accident occurred around 9pm on Lime Street, a left turn from near the state government’s commercial tax office on Beleghata Main Road.
Carrying five passengers in an auto is illegal but a standard practice across the city. Police look the other way and commuters used to the convenience of hopping into an auto seem to care little about the risk involved in being the fifth passenger, invariably with a part of the body sticking out of the vehicle.
Mohammad Ali Hossain, the driver of the auto involved in Sunday’s accident, has been booked for rash driving, causing grievous hurt and endangering the life and personal safety of others.
The police have not been able to confirm how the collision occurred, though the auto carrying one extra passenger is enough to make the driver liable for the accident.
“A police patrol that was nearby went to the site after hearing about the accident. Our personnel, along with the auto driver, helped shift the motorcyclist and the injured passenger to hospital,” an officer at Entally police station said.
Motorcyclist Bikram Shaw, 22, is at NRS Hospital with head and hand injuries.
Road safety experts say every Calcuttan who sits to the right of the driver in an auto is at risk of an accident like the one in which Imran’s toe was severed.
Dwindling transport options — there are fewer buses on the road compared to a couple of years ago and taxi rides are more expensive — force commuters to take this risk regularly but auto operators eager to maximise their earnings are as much as at fault.
Metro has been highlighting how this practice has the blessings of the auto unions, which take money from the drivers in return for doing everything necessary to provide immunity from the rare police crackdown.
The blue book of an auto mentions that the carrying capacity of the vehicle is a maximum of three passengers, but Calcutta has three-wheelers that carry up to six passengers. “In most other cities, autos charge metered fares. Here it is a shared form of transport,” a police officer said.
Autos in Calcutta were first allowed to carry four passengers in the 90s, when the late Subhas Chakraborty was the transport minister, the officer said.
“The police did oppose it, pointing out that the carrying capacity of an auto is four, including the driver. But it was overruled,” he added.
Sumantra Chowdhury, a former principal secretary of the transport department, said nobody was legitimately entitled to sit beside the driver in an auto.
“The Central Motor Vehicles Rules and the Motor Vehicles Act clearly state that nobody can do so. This is meant to give the driver space to move his hands. If he is comfortable, the passengers are secure.”
Transport minister Madan Mitra on Monday promised action — and not for the first time — to rein in errant autos. “We have decided to send out teams from the transport department to collect information about 10 routes every day and find out the number of legal and illegal autos.”