Taxis are likely to be off the roads for the second successive Monday with the Left-backed unions organising a protest rally at the city centre, the Trinamul-leaning union voicing support and the state government refusing to blink.
The taxi drivers Metro spoke to on Sunday either said they would not ply their vehicles on Monday or they would wait and watch before taking a call.
Union leaders took pains to point out they had announced “a rally and not a strike” but added that they were helpless if individual taxi drivers decided not to work to support the cause — protesting the Rs 3,000 fine being slapped for refusal.
Between August 7 and 13, the Left-backed unions had called three rallies for the same reason and on all three days the city saw taxis disappearing from the streets.
The first rally on August 7 also saw taxis that had defied the “unofficial strike” being attacked and damaged on the road by other drivers.
On Monday, taxi operators from the city and adjacent districts will converge at the Y-road, near Metro channel at Esplanade, to take part in the rally from 2pm. The union leaders could not say how long the rally, which is also likely to affect traffic flow at the city centre, would continue.
“We have not called for any taxi strike tomorrow. We have only called for a meeting with the drivers and other members in the transport sector. We are not forcing anyone either to join the rally or to not bring out their taxis,” said Anadi Sahoo, a Citu leader and former labour minister.
Bimal Guha, the president of Bengal Taxi Association to which 18,000 of the 30,000-odd taxis in the city are affiliated, said the union — otherwise pro-Trinamul — supported the cause the Left leaders were fighting for. The association had officially stayed away from the agitation till now.
“The Left leaders are fighting for a cause common to all drivers and operators. We support that but do not support a strike or violent protests. So although we would not join their meeting, if drivers refuse to ply what can we do?” said Guha. He added that the Bengal Taxi Association is planning to move court seeking cancellation of the Rs 3,000 fine.
The state government talked tough, saying it would take “strict action” against taxi owners and drivers who would not bring out their vehicles on Monday.
“The union leaders have promised me that taxis would ply in the morning and evening. A few drivers who may join their rally would also be back with their taxis after the meeting ends. But if they do not keep their word and taxis remain off the road, the motor vehicles department would cancel permits of all such taxis and arrest drivers caught stopping others from plying,” said transport minister Madan Mitra.
The minister added that a large team of policemen and motor vehicles department officials would be on the road on Monday to keep an eye on taxis and the rally.
“The police have been wrongfully extorting money from us in the name of collecting fines. To protest against such atrocities, I will not run the taxi and take part in the rally,” said Shiv Jatan Thakur, a taxi driver who had been fined Rs 3,000 last month.
There are some who would not take out their taxis in fear on Monday. “On August 7, I was manhandled by a section of drivers and had my taxi windshield broken. I cannot take a chance again,” said Sanmarg Paswan, who received two stitches on his right shoulder and had to spend Rs 3,000 to repair the windshield.
WHAT: Rally by Left-backed taxi unions to protest Rs 3,000 fine for refusal
BACKED BY: Bengal
Taxi Association, which is otherwise
WHERE: The Y-road near Metro Channel
WHEN: From 2pm
LIKELY IMPACT: Taxis to be off the road for most of the day
GOVT STAND: Ply your taxis or else...