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December 31 deadline to end cab refusal

Taxi refusals in and around Calcutta will be a thing of the past by December 31, transport minister Madan Mitra said in the Assembly on Monday.

“I admit taxis are refusing to ferry passengers in Calcutta. But by December 31, 2014, there will not be any taxi refusal in the city and its neighbouring areas. I am giving you my word on this,” the minister said while replying to discussions on the demand for grants for his department.

Mitra said 4,000 “no refusal” white taxis — 2,000 each in the public vehicles department (PVD) and non-PVD metropolitan areas — are being introduced. “Of these, the owners of 2,000 have already received permits.”

Mitra said 14,000 yellow cabs with the words “No Refusal” painted on them were supposed to ply in the city. “I have information that the owners of some of these taxis have removed the ‘No Refusal’ words. We have devised a system to track down such taxis. Stern action will be taken against them,” he said.

Mitra has repeatedly promised to stop taxi refusal but the situation on the ground has hardly changed.

Metro has highlighted on various occasions the growing tendency among taxi drivers to refuse passengers if the destinations are not to their liking.

Several officials in the transport department, however, are sceptical over whether the minister’s deadline could be met. “It (meeting the deadline) seems a tall order,” said an official. “We have to bridge the demand-supply gap by introducing more taxis and ensure strict enforcement of laws.”

The PVD had in April slapped a fine of Rs 3,000 on taxis caught refusing passengers. “The department has also decided to blacklist the taxis against whom complaints of refusals have been lodged,” the official said.

Mitra said in the Assembly compound on Monday that the department was considering slapping a fine of Rs 5,000 on taxis for refusing passengers.

“A driver will pay Rs 5,000 as fine once or twice. Thereafter, he will not violate rules. If anyone knows how to manage taxiwallahs, it is Madan Mitra,” he added.

Taxi owners and operators, however, said an effective way to fight the menace is to open taxi stands run by government officials and not unions. “Besides, the police should slap spot-fines on errant drivers and not the owners,” said Bimal Guha of the Bengal Taxi Association. “Unless the drivers feel the pinch, their attitude wouldn’t change.”

The government has proposed to introduce new public transport, taxis and buses, in all districts by the end of the year. “Calcutta will get 3,500 new vehicles, mostly taxis. Siliguri, Howrah and Hooghly will get 1,000 new vehicles each, while Burdwan and West Midnapore will get 500 each,” Mitra said.

He admitted that the number of buses plying in the state was inadequate and a significant number of buses was off the roads. “The last bus fare hike was in 2012, after which the price of diesel has gone up 23 times,” he said while implying that many private operators had withdrawn their vehicles because of this.