|With autos off the road, commuters wait for transport at the Beleghata crossing of the Bypass on Thursday morning. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta
A police attempt to relocate an illegal autorickshaw stand in Salt Lake was thwarted by drivers who staged a blockade and suspended service for two hours on Thursday morning, forcing cops to abandon their drive.
The foiled move once again underscored the clout auto drivers enjoy in Calcutta and its adjoining areas.
The 90-odd autos on the Beleghata-Karunamoyee route start from the Beleghata crossing of the Bypass in Salt Lake. The auto stand at the crossing — a source of traffic chaos in the area — occupies a stretch that is a “no-parking zone”.
On Thursday morning, a team from the traffic department of Bidhannagar commissionerate asked the drivers to shift the stand to a spot around 200 metres away, in front of a gate of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). The cops threatened to impose fines if the drivers defied the directive.
The drivers, however, refused to move and blocked the road in front of the existing stand for over 20 minutes from 9.30am to protest the police order. When the cops forced them to lift the blockade, the drivers suspended service for over two hours from 10am.
“We have been plying autos from this stand for over 10 years. No one has ever dared to question us. How can the police suddenly ask us to shift the stand? We will lose passengers if we relocate,” said Sandip Dey, the assistant secretary of the Trinamul-run union that manages the stand.
With the drivers going on a wildcat strike, hundreds of passengers on their way to Karunamoyee and Sector V were left stranded. Even after the blockade was lifted, the chaos resulting from altercation between the police and auto drivers slowed down traffic.
“I ran into a blockade at the Beleghata crossing. When the blockade was lifted, the auto drivers refused to ply. Because of the chaos, I reached office an hour behind schedule,” said Sandipan Das, who works at a private bank in Sector V.
The drivers resumed service around noon after the cops agreed to discuss the issue with them. During the evening meeting at Bidhannagar South police station, the drivers pressured the cops into allowing parking of 15 autos at a time at the stand. The rest can be parked on the other flank.
“We have allowed them to park some autos at the existing stand for now, while we try to set up a proper stand near the SAI complex,” said an officer of the traffic department.
The auto drivers, however have other plans. “We have agreed to the police proposal but if we find that we are being inconvenienced, we will bring back all the autos to the stand,” said Dey.