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Autos bend rules under police watch

An auto in Lake Town ferries five passengers, against four the law allows it to carry
An auto stand at the Lake Town link road-Jessore Road crossing where the police have put up a ‘No Parking’ sign
Vehicles ply in both directions along the Lake Town link road in violation of the one-way rule.
A car and a motorbike enter the link road from the VIP Road-end ignoring the ‘No Entry’ sign. Pictures by Mayukh Sengupta

Jumping traffic signals, carrying extra passengers, driving through “No Entry” stretches and plying on illegal routes — autorickshaw drivers in Lake Town are accused of every possible violation of traffic rules.

The lawlessness along the Lake Town link road that connects VIP Road and Jessore Road made news following the recent arrest of an auto driver who had allegedly assaulted two police volunteers after they stopped him for running red signals and hitting a motorcycle.

Residents, however, said the auto drivers get away with violations on most days.

Police sources said no other auto driver had been arrested over the past three months despite rampant violations. Metro hits the road to report the ground reality.

Excess passengers

None of the autorickshaws on the Ultadanga-Lake Town route start from the Lake Town stand without at least five passengers. Some ferry even seven passengers. The law allows three-wheelers to ferry up to four passengers.

“The drivers refuse to move without at least five passengers. If we protest they ask us to get off,” said Surabhi Das, a resident of Lake Town. “Some autos ferry as many as four passengers in the front.”

The auto drivers cite the rise in the LPG price as the reason for ferrying more than four passengers in violation of rules. “If we are to follow the rule, we must be allowed to raise the fares,” said a driver.

The autos are also accused of illegally splitting a route into two to maximise profit.

Illegal auto stand

An illegal stand for autos on the Ultadanga-Lake Town route operates at the crossing of Lake Town link road and Jessore Road, cocking a snook at a “No Parking” signage put up at the crossroads by the Bidhannagar commissionerate.

When Metro visited the spot, a traffic constable was seen standing beside the signage while autos continued to park freely at the illegal stand.

Police sources say a legal stand exists a few metres away on Jessore Road, but the auto drivers have refused to move because the crowded crossing gives them good business.

“We have been operating from this stand for several years. If we move to the new stand, we will miss short-distance passengers, like the ones who commute between Jaya cinema and the Lake Town-VIP Road crossing,” said Tokon Das, another driver.

Rule mockery

The Lake Town link road, which runs between Jessore Road and VIP Road, is a one-way thoroughfare between 8am and noon and from 5pm to 9pm. But the rule is seldom enforced.

The Bidhannagar commissionerate has planted signage along both sides of the road stating the one-way rule, but lax policing encourages drivers to ignore it.

“What is the point of introducing a rule when there is no one to enforce it. Some constables could be seen penalising errant vehicles when the rule came into force two months ago, but they disappeared within a few days,” said Joyjit Karmakar, a resident of Lake Town.

Lack of policing

An order of the Bidhannagar commissionerate states that at any time of the day, three officers, four constables and as many as eight green police volunteers are to man the Lake Town link road between the Jessore Road and the VIP Road crossings.

But during a reality check, only a green police volunteer and a constable were found on the busy link road.

A constable who was standing near the illegal auto stand at the Jessore Road crossing promptly disappeared when he saw the Metro team photograph the stretch.

A clutch of green police volunteers was managing traffic at the Lake Town-VIP Road crossing. One of them claimed drivers pay little heed to them. “When we stop errant autos, the drivers abuse us and threaten to get us thrown out of job by lodging complaints with political leaders,” said one of the volunteers.

Senior officers at Bidhannagar commissionerate said the force was over-dependant on the volunteers for managing traffic because of a shortage of policemen.

“We suffer from a shortage of personnel. But officers and constables are deployed, too. The volunteers work in co-ordination with them,” said a senior officer of the traffic department of Bidhannagar City Police.