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Stick to beat auto rogues

The government issued a set of strictures on Tuesday to rein in rogue autorickshaw drivers and operators but stopped short of specifying how these would be enforced.

Transport minister Madan Mitra, who has been consistently crying a crackdown on the out-of-control auto network in Calcutta and the suburbs, said the three-wheelers must shift to high-security registration plates (HSRP) by June 30.

It will be mandatory for the drivers to carry their driving licence along with copies of the registration certificate, tax token and fitness certificate. They have to wear a navy blue uniform with the right pocket of the shirt bearing the driver’s name and driving licence number.

All autos must paint or paste the police helpline number, 1073, on the back of the driver’s seat. If the vehicle owner wants to display ads, certain specifications have to be followed.

Attending Calcutta police workshops once a year is another must for the drivers.

“The government is earnest in its effort to discipline auto operators. Auto drivers have to fall in line or face legal action,” said Mitra, adding that a government notification would be issued within a week.

A two-member committee comprising transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay and Calcutta police special commissioner Soumen Mitra, which was set up on January 10, had recommended the strictures.

Though the motor vehicle rules stipulate that auto drivers carry their driving licence and the other papers all the time, the majority of auto drivers in the city flout these norms with impunity. Worse, they are seldom punished.

There has been little or no action against the offenders and the government is reluctant to touch this tricky topic.

The minister’s response sounded wishy-washy: the transport department would demarcate areas for “auto stands” across the city and join the Calcutta police in carrying out “regular raids”.

“The law department and Calcutta police will examine the legal implications of the strictures before prescribing the penalties for each violation. That would take some time,” a transport official said.

“The committee was silent on autos plying on unregistered routes, one of the key components of the auto-raj in the city,” he added.

The public vehicles department had approved 125 routes in the city, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Unregistered routes have doubled or tripled over the years because of political patronage to auto operators. The government had been showing the sheath rather than the sword with high-pitched warnings minus action on the ground,” a source said.

“The committee should have recommended a colour code for each zone so that auto drivers could be stopped from switching routes according to their wish,” said an auto union leader affiliated to Trinamul.

The drivers carry five passengers on many routes, two more than they are legally allowed to. “There was no proposal to stop autos from carrying more than the stipulated number of passengers or charge fares indiscriminately,” he added.