The impounded auto at Patuli police station. (Pradip Sanyal )
An unlicensed autorickshaw driver fatally knocked down an 80-year-old man at Ganguly Bagan in south Calcutta on Monday evening, triggering a protest on Tuesday that forced three-wheelers off the road for more than two hours.
Chittaranjan Saha, 79, is the second casualty in as many months in an accident involving a speeding autorickshaw and an unlicensed driver on Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick Road.
“He could not walk briskly. He had barely reached the middle of the road when the signal turned green and an auto coming from the Garia side at speed hit him. He was flung to the ground,” said Panchu Shaw, a cook who witnessed the accident from a fast food outlet across the road.
Retired engineer Ashutosh Sengupta, 69, was also crossing the road when a rev-happy auto driver eager to be ahead of the traffic knocked him down. His death had led residents of the area to give an ultimatum to auto drivers to drive safely or be banned from that route. Monday’s accident showed little has changed.
Kanai Das, the driver of the auto that hit Saha, has been arrested and his vehicle impounded. Like Anjan Rai, the driver involved in the accident on January 21, he was driving without a licence, police said.
Saha, a resident of 25/A Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick Road, was going to a medical store across the road around 5pm on Monday when the accident occurred. He died at SSKM Hospital around 11pm.
Driver Das has been remanded in judicial custody for a week.
Officers at Patuli police station said accidents were common on this busy 4km stretch because autos and pedestrians alike were prone to flouting safety norms.
“There is a tendency among Calcuttans to walk across the road even when the traffic signal is green. Few use the zebra crossing. People just wave at autos and buses right in the middle of the road and hop into them,” an officer said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Metro spotted autos again racing each other down Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick Road and pedestrians crossing the road when the green light was on.
The entire stretch doesn’t have footpaths on either side, forcing pedestrians to walk down the carriageway. In the absence of a divider in the middle of the 35ft wide road, auto drivers switch lanes at will.
Once sparsely populated, Ganguly Bagan witnessed a construction boom in the Nineties and is now chock-a-block with multi-storey buildings and business establishments.
Traffic is thick through the day and rash driving makes it worse for everyone on the road.
“Lakhs of people have settled in this part of the city over the years and autorickshaws are the chosen mode of transport for many,” said Papiya Karmakar, a resident of Raja Subodh Chandra Mullick Road for the past three years.
On Tuesday, people living in the neighbourhood stopped autos from plying on that stretch from 8am till 11am.
“We instructed the linemen (union members who keep track of and maintain the flow of autos) at Gariahat and Garia not to let any auto ferry passengers,” said Bivu Nandi, a social worker from the area.
“More than 800 autos ply between Gariahat and Garia station and most of the drivers don’t have driving licences and vehicle documents,” Nandi alleged.
Some residents said local Trinamul leaders had temporarily distanced themselves from the auto operators so that the party didn’t have to face flak.