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Waiting for Godot on Guwahati streets

Guwahati, April 23: Nageswar Das, 57, had a long, agonising wait at the ABC bus stop on yet another scorcher of an afternoon, thanks to the requisition of city buses and trekkers for poll duty.

“It took me an extra hour to reach office (at Bhangagarh) from my residence at Rani (about 30km away) today as buses were few and far between. It’s been half an hour since the last crowded bus stopped by. So I guess it will be another long day like yesterday,” Das, said resigning to his “fate”.

With the district administration requisitioning public vehicles for tomorrow’s Lok Sabha polls, the city for the second consecutive day today saw more than half the number of buses and trekkers off the roads, giving commuters a hard time.

For commuters ranging from office-goers to college students and petty businessmen, the options were running out as the day went by. One had to either hope for a relatively less crowded bus to stop by, muscle one’s way inside the bus or part with more money in an auto rickshaw, or better still, hail a radio cab, if at all the service is available.

With the mercury pushing 40 degrees by noon, the discomfort level was apparent as the anxious wait continued. The adventurous lot went overboard given the situation with some “living on the edge” atop the buses while others perilously hung from the footboards and the rear.

The trekkers that transport a good chunk of Guwahati’s population were not to be seen on the otherwise busy GS Road. “I usually go to work by trekker. But today I had to take a shared auto from Birubari to Bhangagarh and shell out Rs 10 more as there were none to be seen,” Basanti Devi, a matron at the LGB Chest Hospital at Birubari, said.

About 800 trekkers ply in the city everyday.

Assam chief electoral officer Vijayendra told The Telegraph that vehicles have been requisitioned for poll duty and that there will be inconvenience to some extent for two days.

“We have to requisition the vehicles for smooth conduct of polls. I hope people will bear with us because we are doing everything only to strengthen democracy. Still, I will look into the matter and see what can be done to ease the trouble caused to commuters,” he said when informed about the hardships faced by commuters in all the six constituencies going to polls tomorrow.

According to K.C. Pegu, assisting officer (transport cell), as many as 100 ASTC buses, 83 mini buses and 43 trekkers apart from around 250 private vehicles (including Sumos and Travellers) were requisitioned from Kamrup (metro) district.

About 570 vehicles have been requisitioned from the four Assembly seats of Chaygaon, Boko, Palasbari and Hajo in Kamrup district under Gauhati parliamentary constituency. In the other parliamentary constituencies that vote tomorrow, the scene was no different. In Nagaon and Dhubri, about 2,000 and 1,250 vehicles respectively were requisitioned for transporting poll officials and security forces. In Barpeta, close to 600 vehicles were requisitioned while in Mangaldoi constituency, 590 vehicles were engaged in poll duty.

Around 700 mini buses ply in and around Guwahati everyday. Sources said many buses have been sent outside the city by “owners with the hope of earning extra bucks in the districts”. Speculation is also rife that many private transporters have kept their vehicles off duty fearing requisition.

Worse still, only about a 1,000-odd auto rickshaws were plying in the greater Guwahati area today. Asked why, Naren Pathak, secretary of the All Guwahati Auto Rickshaw Drivers’ Association, said, “Most of our drivers have gone home to vote.” Close to 3,500 auto-rickshaws ply in the city everyday.

Neelam Mishra, 18, a medical student, was relatively lucky, only because her home near Bora Service was just 1.5km away from her college. “I guess I will have to walk home in the sun rather than wait for a bus till God knows when,” she said, after a 15-minute halt at the Bhangagarh stop.


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