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Thursday , December 20 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Still riding: cab with baggage of 67 cases
- ‘Illustrious’ life and times of car that refused Salt Lake couple

What police couldn’t do in 72 hours can be done in seven minutes.

While Lalbazar’s traffic wing is apparently still “trying” to identify the taxi driver who refused engineer Somaditya Kar and his wife Sinjini and the cops who allegedly stood up for the culprit, Metro found out on Wednesday that the required information takes a few minutes to find if the investigating officer wants to.

The taxi whose number (WB 04D 0740) Kar had mentioned in his Facebook complaint at 12.21am on Monday is registered in the name of one Puspadal Das and has 64 citation cases against it, the oldest of them dating back to October 2006 and the last one on December 9.

These and other nuggets of information so vital to the investigation are not from some secret document that Metro has unearthed. The required details are all part of a traffic database available for easy access by the police and the motor vehicles department, according to sources who provided them to Metro.

It isn’t known whether Das was at the wheel when Somaditya and his wife had tried to hail the taxi at Esplanade on Sunday night. But what can be confirmed is that whoever drives taxi number WB 04D 0740 has a history of refusing passengers.

One of the recorded taxi-refusal cases dates back to April 3, the incident occurring under the jurisdiction of the South Traffic Guard. The second one is more recent: December 10, under the Headquarter Traffic Guard. Just six days later, the driver repeated the offence, this time in front of two policemen.

Joint police commissioner (traffic) Supratim Sarkar, who often personally responds to complaints lodged on the traffic police’s Facebook page, said on Wednesday: “The accused driver is yet to be arrested. The process of identification is on.”

The police, of course, needn’t sweat to trace the registered owner. Sources with access to motor vehicles records told Metro that Das was a resident of 135 Roy Bahadur Road, Calcutta-34. The area is under Behala police station.

Apart from the 64 citation cases that include offences like traffic-signal violation, stop-line violation and parking in a no-parking zone, there is a compound case pending against Das’s taxi in a city court.

A compound case — the offence could be anything from indiscriminate parking to dangerous driving — empowers the cop on duty to seize the vehicle’s documents, which may or may not include the driver’s licence.

The driver is supposed to pay the stipulated fine at the local traffic guard within 15 days to get back the seized documents. A case is transferred to a court when the fine is unpaid.

If the delay in tracing the taxi driver involved in Sunday night’s incident is hard to explain, the police’s failure to identify the two cops who had allegedly backed the culprit is baffling. Somaditya had posted on Facebook a mobile-phone picture of one of the cops, which though fuzzy could be more than useful in identifying him, sources said.

In a comment posted later, the young engineer had described the cop as “extremely arrogant”. When Somaditya approached the policeman’s senior colleague, his alleged response was: “This is not my job. We are not here to hail taxis for you.”

Metro reported on Wednesday how officers of the South Traffic guard had called Somaditya twice — not to probe but to say that the incident didn’t happen in their jurisdiction.

esplanade revisited

If rudeness is in the Calcutta cabbie’s DNA, the Calcutta cop is a study in indifference to the harassed commuter’s plight.

On Monday night, barely 24 hours after a Salt Lake couple learnt what it is to be tormented by taxi drivers and then ticked off by the cops they had turned to for help, Metro took the Esplanade taxi test to find out whether it was a one-off incident.

The time: 10.10pm. The destination: Behala.

After being turned down by 10 cabbies, some indifferent and the others plain rude, we sought the assistance of two cops — both assistant sub-inspectors — manning the Calcutta Police kiosk at the fork of Esplanade East and JL Nehru Road.

The duo’s names are being withheld in this reproduction of our exchange with them.

Metro: Please help us. Not one of the taxis here is ready to ferry us to Behala.

Cop 1 (stretching his arms): What can we do? It is already past 9pm.

Metro: But there is no rule that says taxis have the right to refuse passengers after 9pm.

Cop 1: Who told you that? Don’t you know that fares rise after 9pm and taxi drivers can decide which place to go? Isn’t that the rule?

Looks at his colleague, who is laying out home-cooked dinner on a stool

Cop 2: Of course, that’s common knowledge. It comes regularly in the newspapers, haven’t you seen?

Metro: But as far as we know, taxis cannot refuse passengers at any time of day. There is a night charge that we are ready to pay. In such a scenario, wouldn’t you help us find a cab?

Cop 1: But that is not our job and we cannot force a taxi (to go somewhere).

Metro: So they will go on refusing us in front of you and you won’t do anything?

Cop 1 (to Cop 2): Why don’t you give him a complaint card. (To Metro) Dada, you file a complaint.

Metro (filling up the form): We will file a complaint all right but how will we go home now? Can’t you help us with that? After all, that is the police’s job.

Cop 2: If some one is ill, then we intervene. But we don’t hail taxis for people who have a flight or train to catch or are returning home.

Metro: Where should I put my phone number or address on this form? Otherwise, how will you contact me?

Cop 2 (taking a close look): Oh, is there no space for it? Okay, put it in some blank space.

Metro: What about email address?

Cops (in unison): There’s no need for that.

Metro: So you are saying there is no way for us to return home now as taxis won’t go and you won’t find one for us?

Cop 1: The problem is that we become the scapegoats when we are doing night shifts. The cabbies say it to our faces that they won’t go. Even we feel bad.

Metro: But can’t you book them for that on the spot?

Cop 1: No, we don’t have any such power. If anything might work, it is the complaint that you have just filed. This will go straight where it matters and let’s see what action they take.

Cop 2: Our bosses have to be strict. If they are lenient, what can we do?

Cop 1: If we are too strict, they (the cabbies) will claim that we are asking for bribes.

Cop 2 (steps out after apparently having a change of heart): You said Behala, didn’t you? Let me see if I can help you.

The first taxi he stops agrees to go to Behala. There is none of the defiance that the policemen had earlier said the cabbies show.

Rith Basu and Tamaghna Banerjee