Guess whose toes Asim Dasgupta has stepped on after hitting the streets of Salt Lake for his evening walk' Cabinet colleague Subhas Chakraborty’s, of course.
More than a decade ago, the finance minister — after getting temporary charge of the transport department because of Chakraborty’s absence — got down to some serious (and high- profile) traffic-management near Lalbazar. Chakraborty was not amused and, immediately on rejoining office, said such an ‘active’ minister could only create more problems rather than solve them.
Dasgupta has hit the road once again, with health, and not traffic-management, uppermost on his mind. But the fallout — if the rumblings within the transport minister’s lobby in the public vehicles department, Bidhannagar Municipality and the North 24-Parganas are anything to go by — is very similar.
The finance minister has asked law-enforcers to ensure that the “unruly” auto-rickshaws stay off Salt Lake’s Broadway, the stretch in front of Charnock City. This diktat came in late September when Dasgupta, on his now-customary evening walk back home, found some autos blocking the Bypass.
“We have told auto-drivers not to enter Broadway,” confirmed Bidhannagar (South) inspector-in-charge Biplab Bagchi. “They are a menace to cars and pedestrians.” Though he “officially” denied any link between the finance minister and the no-entry-for-autos rule, Bagchi could not explain why the three-wheelers had suddenly been pulled off Salt Lake’s streets.
The transport lobby and some CPM leaders close to Chakraborty see in the police move a “conspiracy” to undermine the transport minister’s “authority”. A North 24-Parganas CPM functionary said: “The way in which officials acted in yanking autos off the road without bothering to consult the transport minister is unprecedented. Why can’t the finance minister use the Salt Lake stadium for his evening walk and leave the road to autos'”
All this has put the police in an “uncomfortable” position — caught in a power tussle between two heavyweight ministers. “The auto union has shown our officials permits issued by the public vehicles department to some of these vehicles plying on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass,” a senior officer said. “We seem to be caught in a crossfire.” Dasgupta, however, refused to read too much into the episode and maintained that most residents of Salt Lake felt that autos were “a real menace”.