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Calcutta taxi drivers on warpath with govt
- Many cabs likely to stay off streets on Monday as operators plan to court arrest

Calcutta, Aug. 9: The Left-backed unions of taxi drivers today announced a “law-violation programme” in Calcutta on Monday, raising fears of a replay of Thursday’s agitation when most cabs had disappeared from the city’s streets.

Leaders of the Citu and Aituc-backed taxi drivers’ unions announced that members would march in a procession from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to Rani Rashmoni Avenue to protest “police excesses” and the government’s move to impose a “steep” fine for refusing passengers, the issues raised on Thursday. The participants will court arrest, the leaders said.

The unions have demanded the release of the 22 taxi drivers arrested during Thursday’s protest and the withdrawal of showcause notices issued to 400 other drivers asking why their permits should not be cancelled.

The taxi unions of the Trinamul Congress, Congress and the BJP had also taken part in Thursday’s protest, which had been called by the Left outfits, virtually holding central Calcutta to siege.

“All that we can say is Monday’s law-violation programme will be a peaceful one,” said Anadi Sahoo, a Citu leader and former labour minister. “Commuters might face difficulties. We request them to bear with us for the sake of taxi drivers. The drivers have been pushed to the wall.”

The Congress, Trinamul and BJP unions have not so far said whether they would take part in Monday’s protest.

The plan for Monday was chalked out today at a convention at state Citu headquarters Sramik Bhavan on AJC Bose Road. Senior leaders of Citu and CPI labour arm Aituc, which claim 18,000 of the 30,000-odd taxis in Calcutta are affiliated to them, attended the convention.

“Our protest is against police atrocities,” said Babun Das, a taxi driver from Kamarhati, the Assembly constituency of transport minister Madan Mitra.

Mitra today visited the taxi stands at Howrah and Sealdah railway stations and spoke to passengers to find out if they were facing any difficulty.

“The transport department will hold a convention with taxi drivers on August 13. There, I will speak to the drivers about the government’s stand on the refusal fine and other issues. Taxi owners and unions won’t be called to the meeting as they urge the government to discipline drivers and then provoke the drivers against the government,” Mitra said.

Citu leader Subhas Mukherjee said: “The minister knows that without the unions, talks are bound to fail.”

The public vehicles department (PVD) and the police have been fining taxi drivers Rs 3,000 for each instance of refusing passengers. Several taxi permits have been revoked after the owners ignored summons to attend hearings by the PVD.

On Thursday, most taxi unions had got together to organise the protest in central Calcutta. Buses and taxis that dared to ply were vandalised, prompting the government to arrest the 22 drivers and issue the showcause notices. The drivers were booked for “rioting with deadly weapons” and sent to judicial custody till August 12. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had warned that she would brook no rebellion.