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Many layers of parking mafia

Finding space to park a car in Calcutta is a nightmare matched only by the torture of having to deal with parking attendants.

They harass, lie about rules, claim links with police and, when nothing else works, threaten vehicle owners with lines like: “Don’t blame me if something happens to your car!”

So lucrative — and conveniently lawless — is the business of managing parking lots that nothing would stop the co-operatives involved in it from holding on to their lease year after year.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s first attempt to lease out parking lots through a bidding process last year saw the civic headquarters being allegedly ransacked. This year, the wooden boxes containing the bids are under police guard till the civic body gets the chief electoral officer’s nod to open them.

Metro, which had earlier highlighted the high stakes in the race to retain control of the parking lots, hit the streets on successive days last week to find out how the co-operatives function.

Where: Camac Street-Albert Road (Uttam Kumar Sarani) crossing

What we saw: The legal parking space on one side of the road is for 15 cars, but more than 35 of them stood bumper to bumper along with eight motorcycles last Friday afternoon. The double-lane parking added to the traffic chaos on the narrow stretch of road.

Cars were parked in two rows on Camac Street too, including in no-parking zones on either side of the road. Motorcycles occupied the footpath!

Parking fee charged: Rs 20 an hour for cars; Rs 10 an hour for two-wheelers.

Attendant’s voice: “We are just one link in the chain. We have to pay the co-operative Rs 700 every day. If we don’t charge a little extra or accommodate more cars, how can we survive?” said an attendant with “17 years’ experience”.

But don’t the police crack down on illegal parking? “We pay the police Rs 800 a month and they don’t bother us. In case of any trouble with the customers, there are local toughs who we pay weekly and they ensure protection,” he said.

Where: Middleton Row

What we saw: Cars were parked in four rows in front of St. Thomas’s Church. The parking lot is supposedly reserved for cars but several motorbikes were there too. Some of the fee collectors were in blue uniform but none wore a licence tag. The CMC’s rate chart for parking was not to be seen anywhere.

Parking fee charged: Rs 20 an hour for cars; Rs 5 an hour for motorbikes.

Victim’s voice: “I parked my car for 30 minutes and the attendant demanded Rs 40. After some bargaining, he settled for Rs 20,” said Dwaipayan Roy, a resident of Haridevpur.

Where: JL Nehru Road

What we saw: Cars were parked in two lanes along the divider on Saturday afternoon. The stretch has legal parking space for 15 cars, but on any given day anything between 40 and 50 cars stand there. When demand is high, the attendants ask car owners to park their vehicles on the left side of the road alongside the footpath, which is a no-parking zone.

Parking fee charged: Rs 30 per hour for cars.

Attendant’s voice: “We allow more than the stipulated number of parking slots for the benefit of car owners, who would otherwise have to go round in circles. For this, we have to grease the palms of policemen and so are forced to charge a little extra,” an employee said.

Where: Behind New Market

What we saw: The parking facility, meant only for motorcycles, is run by two men. Bikes are parked in double and sometime triple rows, blocking the entire thoroughfare. The duo charge double the actual rate and are allegedly abusive if anyone asks for a receipt.

Parking fee charged: Rs 10 an hour for two-wheelers.

Attendant’s voice: “We are entitled to special privileges from the CMC (because of their physical disability). It is not necessary for us to give receipts against payment. If you have a problem, try parking your bike at any other place.”

The only other parking space for motorbikes in the vicinity is in front of the defunct Globe cinema. At any time of day, that space is full with two-wheelers whose owners pay a monthly parking fee.

Official-speak

• Debasis Kumar, mayoral council member (parking): “We know a parking racket exists but cannot act against them in the absence of specific complaints. These rackets are run by co-operatives that have been manipulating the bidding process for the past 30 years. This year, we are trying to have a fair bidding process.”

• Dilip Adak, DC (traffic): “We do prosecute attendants when we get complaints. The onus is on the CMC to run checks and ban co-operatives that indulge in extortion.”

The rules

Number of vehicles must not exceed specified limit

Rate chart should be put up

Parking attendants must be in uniform

Rates

• Two-wheelers: Rs 5/hour (7am-10pm); Rs 10/hour (10pm-7am)

• Cars: Rs 10/hour (7am-10pm) Rs 30/hour (10pm-7am)

Grievances

Call CMC’s supervisor, parking department, at 22861000 (extension-2829)