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Discipline onus on auto unions

The Trinamul government has passed the onus of reining in rogue autorickshaw drivers to the union leaders, following in the footsteps of its Left predecessor that had compromised on the safety of passengers in its zeal to patronise unions.

“We have asked the unions to issue an identity card to each auto driver bearing his name, address, telephone number and the organisation he is affiliated to. All unions will be accountable to the government,” transport minister Madan Mitra said after a meeting with auto operators at Writers’ on Friday.

The meeting was called to drive home the measures the government had initiated to enforce discipline on auto operators.

Asked why the task of issuing identity cards was being passed to the unions, Mitra said: “The government can’t go around issuing cards to the drivers. It’s the job of the unions. We would also want them to put up the names and cellphone numbers of their presidents at stands so passengers can call them up in crisis.”

The need for identity cards for auto drivers was felt for the umpteenth time after the August 16 accident in Sinthee that left four-year-old Adrika Ghoshal critically injured.

The complaint Adrika’s parents lodged did not mention the driver’s name as they were in the dark about his identity.

Transport department officials, however, failed to clarify whether the unions would be barred from issuing identity cards to the drivers of the thousands of illegal autos in and around the city.

The auto unions have been enjoying political patronage since the early 80s. During the Left Front rule, almost all the unions on the 200-plus routes were affiliated to the Citu.

“Till 2009, the membership stood at 10,000 in the city. The annual membership fee was Rs 24,” said Citu leader Ajit Chaudhury, who looked after auto unions in north Calcutta.

Government sources said the unions called the shots on almost all matters while the administration looked the other way. “Trinamul has been trying to replicate the model since coming to power. The minister’s statement on auto unions took the process a step ahead,” said a source.

“If there is any issue with any route, the government would ask the union leaders to clarify. There is nothing wrong in this. Unions are registered bodies and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. If necessary, the government can cancel the registration of a particular union,” Mitra said.

The minister stressed that the government would not tolerate attempts by auto drivers on various routes to hike fares — by 50 paise to Rs 1 — following a crackdown on three-wheelers carrying more than four passengers.

Most union representatives kept mum on Mitra’s assertion but some, such as Sanat Lahiri of an RSP-backed union, pointed out that “not-more-than-four” directive could not be implemented without a fare hike.

The government on Friday also declared that it would press for attaching high-security numberplates to all autos by Kali puja in an attempt to weed out illegal autos.

Drowned: A 24-year-old youth drowned in a pond at Ramkrishnapur in Howrah on Friday. Bokaro resident Debraj Prasad had come to his maternal uncle’s home on Thursday for a few days. He had gone for a bath with his cousins and apparently got stuck in the mud.

Arrested: About 160 supporters of the CPI-ML were arrested on Friday near the Dorina crossing for breaking a police cordon and defying orders to vacate the spot. They will be produced in court on Saturday.