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Dum Dum autos defy law to ferry 5

Autorickshaws on the Dum Dum-Nagerbazar route in north Calcutta started ferrying five passengers on Thursday to apparently offset losses caused by rising fuel price and a status quo on fares.

According to the Motor Vehicles Act and Motor Vehicles Rules, no other person apart from the driver can sit in the front seat of a three-wheeler. In Calcutta, autos have been carrying a fourth passenger on the driver’s left since the 90s.

“The government is not letting us increase fares despite the rise in LPG price (current rate is Rs 60.55 a litre) and maintenance costs. Our expenses have gone up and profits have shrunk. That’s why we have decided to ferry an extra passenger,” said Tarak Saha, convener of the Dum Dum Nagerbazar Autorickshaw Union.

Auto operators have been demanding a fare hike since the price of LPG increased by Rs 12 last month.

About 327 autos ply on this route, operating in two shifts and charging Rs 6 per passenger travelling from Dum Dum to Nagerbazar or vice versa. Autos on this 2km route play the role of feeders to Dum Dum Metro and railway stations.

“In 99 per cent cases you will not find a vacant seat if you want to hop into an auto midway. Every auto is full,” said Debolina Roy, a student who uses the auto service to reach the Metro station from a place called Private Road.

The Dum Dum autos were following in the footstep of their compatriots on routes such as Belgachhia-Lake Town, Belgachhia-Bangur and Kimber Street-Topsia.

Commuters were shocked but nobody dared to protest when they found an extra passenger in the auto. “Who will protest? When they can take the decision of carrying five passengers at a time the transport minister is issuing warnings every day, how can the common people say anything?” said another passenger.

The two passengers in the front, seated on either side of the driver, left little room for the man at the driving handle to move his arms. With their arms and legs dangling out of the vehicle, the passengers risked losing a limb or two as the autos zigzagged through dense traffic at high speed — often coming a few centimetres from brushing the sides of vehicles moving alongside or those approaching from the opposite direction.

The drivers could not care less. Almost all the autos on the route have removed the metal rod on the front right side meant for stopping people from sitting next to the driver.

Sheikh Imran, 17, had his left toe sliced off in an accident near Beleghata canal on the night of January 26. He was seating on the right side of the driver in an auto carrying five passengers.

A source said the five-passenger decision was taken on Wednesday when auto union leaders got an indication that the government would not allow a fare hike. Most auto drivers are affiliated to the Trinamul trade union.

Police looked the other way. A policeman said: “We have not been given any instruction to crack down on rogue autos.”

His statement took the thunder out of transport minister Madan Mitra’s rhetoric that he had issued warnings and directed the police to crack down on rogue autos.