The Telegraph
Thursday , February 13 , 2014
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System stronger than stricture

- Steps to rein in autos steeped in hurdles

The strictures announced by the state government to end auto-cracy on Calcutta roads might never get implemented because of reasons political and practical, say senior transport department officials.

Based on the recommendations of a two-member committee comprising transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay and special police commissioner Soumen Mitra, the government on Tuesday made it mandatory for all autos to have high-security registration plates by June 30.

Drivers would need to carry all related documents while on the job and wear a navy-blue uniform displaying their vehicle registration and driving licence numbers.

The transport department will set up auto stands and join the police in periodic checks, transport minister Madan Mitra said. Metro picks holes in the grand plan.

Number plates

The public vehicles department (PVD) releases around 300 high-security plates daily, of which a very small number are for vehicles registered before they were introduced in Bengal in January 2011.

If a larger percentage of older vehicles were to apply for high-security plates, the department would fail to meet the demand with its existing infrastructure.

“Manufacturing these number plates takes time and we don’t have the infrastructure to provide HSRPs by June 30 for the 32,000 autos that legally ply in the city,” a senior official of the Regional Transport Authority said.

To put things in perspective, over six lakh vehicles registered in the city ply without high security plates and there is little by way of enforcement to push someone to apply for one. Bengal was among nine states criticised by the Supreme Court last December for not complying with its order to make high-security plates mandatory for all.

For the PVD offices in Beltala, Salt Lake and Kasba to be able to issue high-security plates to 32,000 autos by June 30, they would need to nearly double the distribution rate of 300 per day.

There is also the not-so-small matter of dealing with opposition from the powerful unions because high-security registration plates would leave the illegal auto population exposed.

Licence & uniform

The vast majority of auto drivers do not carry licences. Many have never had one. Auto owners won’t be able to give these drivers uniforms to wear because of the stipulation that the licence and vehicle registration number should be inscribed on the shirt.

“The government would need to ease the rules for all auto drivers to be eligible for a licence,” said the owner of an auto that plies on the Ultadanga-Karunamoyee route.

The rule-book states that an applicant must have driven a light motor vehicle for at least two years before applying for a licence to drive an autorickshaw. This itself makes most of the young men driving autos ineligible for a licence.

Metro has been highlighting how drivers across auto routes pay the leaders of their respective auto unions between Rs 500 and Rs 700 a month for immunity from a possible police crackdown.

“Any attempt to suddenly transform a system that has been in place for decades would have a fallout,” warned Meghnad Poddar, the president of a south Calcutta auto union.

Auto stands

If the transport department has to set up auto stands, it will have to find space to do so. “Will the government be able to build a stand at the Gariahat crossing for autos that ply on the Gariahat-Taratala route? Even if stands are set up in a nearby lane, autos will still pick up passengers from the crossing,” an official said.

To prevent autos from doing so would require police intervention, which is asking for too much given how three-wheelers continue to illegally carry five passengers.

Even if stands are built for autos on the 125 legal routes in the city, three-wheelers will continue to congest traffic on the 55-odd illegal routes.