The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha stirs on killers on wheels

Calcutta, Sept. 20: Forty-one deaths and 28 days after The Telegraph started carrying a series of reports on the transport terror in Calcutta, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stepped in today to address what is little else than daylight murder.

At the end of a meeting convened by the chief minister, some steps were announced but the good intentions are unlikely to make a difference on the ground unless Bhattacharjee learns from the self-confessed mistakes of the government and holds his team accountable.

Among the decisions, the most feasible and least controversial is the one to have more zebra crossings and guard rails.

The government is also planning to increase the fine on jaywalkers — a toothless penalty that has a history of remaining on paper. The fine now is Rs 50 but it is rarely enforced.

The other proposals — they cannot be termed decisions because the government is still “thinking” about them — will be effective but will require far more resolve than what the government has been showing.

Home secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray said a method would be worked out to strike a balance between the commission system and regular wages for bus employees.

The commission system — the more the number of passengers from one point to another in the shortest time, the more the pay — is blamed for rash driving.

The hint at “striking a balance” signals a retreat as the government had earlier said it wanted to replace the commission system, which the bus lobby is opposed to. Similar opposition is expected to greet any measure that seeks to curb the incentive to drive recklessly.

Another proposal that will work if the government has the will to enforce is to have speed governors in vehicles. “We’re trying to see whether speed governors can be installed to impose speed limit on buses,” Ray said.

Once such a device is installed, a bus will not be able to accelerate beyond a pre-set limit. Bengal’s communist-ruled cousin Kerala has implemented the speed-governor rule for all heavy vehicles from this month but it is largely meant for highways.

Listing the proposals today, Ray conceded that in the past, too, the government had made several announcements but had failed to enforce them. “The high court had passed an order on removing encroachment (hawkers) from the streets. We’ll try and see how to enforce that order,” Ray added.

The government knows that without taming unions, the proposals cannot be implemented. Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty is slated to meet all bus union representatives tomorrow to lay down a “code of conduct” on how to behave with passengers.

The spate of incidents in which passengers were pushed out of buses seems to have prompted Chakraborty to take up the issue.

At the meeting today — also attended by top police officers and the transport secretary — “the inhuman working hours” of bus drivers and conductors were also discussed.

Asked whether any of the steps would be initiated before the Pujas, the home secretary said: “You’ll see what happens.”

Between August 23 and September 19, when the government was “seeing” The Telegraph reports, 41 people were killed and 73 injured on the road.

The government’s announcement has not convinced the bereaved families.

“My brother was not jaywalking…. He was just standing at the bus stop when a speeding bus came and hit him. The government is making all the right noises now, but do they have an answer to why my brother was killed for no fault of his'” asked Ashraf Ali, the elder brother of Sheikh Asgar Ali (45) who was run over by a private bus at Moulali on September 5.

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