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Aim at Left, fire on cabs

The Mamata Banerjee government on Thursday wielded a Left-era stick to crack down on taxi refusal and impose a fine of Rs 3,000 on offenders.

“We expect no interruption in the taxi service… There are clear provisions in the motor vehicles act to prevent taxi refusal and we will follow the rules to stop the practice,” transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay said at Nabanna on Thursday afternoon after a meeting with city police chief Surajit Kar Purkayastha.

Sources said Bandyopadhyay cited provisions from the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Act 1989 to push the government’s anti-refusal policy for taxis and silence Left trade union leaders who have sided with taxi drivers and owners in their protest against steep fines slapped on them for refusing to carry passengers.

“Section 192A of the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Act, 1989, had given the option to book errant taxi drivers for refusing a passenger. This was never implemented. But we have started taking action after receiving several complaints. We won’t compromise with taxi refusal complaints,” the transport secretary cleared the government’s stand.

He said the government has started taking action against taxi refusal following a slew of complaints from harassed citizens.

He wanted to know why no action was taken before despite the existence of strict rules since 1989.

“Permits can be cancelled and licence scrapped in accordance with the law if taxi drivers resort to strike. Any of the steps can be initiated against them,” the transport secretary warned.

The Left leaders, though caught off guard, said the previous government gave priority to “humane” values rather than riding roughshod over taxi drivers. “The Left government knew it would not be possible for poor taxi drivers to pay a steep fine,” Citu leader Subhas Mukherjee said.

“The rule says fines would be slapped only after proper ‘hearing’. There has not been one instance of a proper hearing after taxi drivers were penalised for refusal,” he said.

The government said none of the fines was collected on the spot. “In cases like jumping a red light, there are provisions of imposing a spot fine. But for taxi refusal, the police forward the cases to the courts where a magistrate fixes the penalty,” Bandopadhayay said.

“A total of 1,300 taxi drivers have been booked for refusal in the past months… Spot fine wasn’t imposed on any of them,” police chief Purkayastha said.