Do you have a licence? No.
Do you follow the rules of the road? Silence.
A police initiative to teach autorickshaw drivers to become responsible citizens culminated in the cops being taught a few home truths.
Bidhannagar City Police had invited some 200 auto drivers from Salt Lake, New Town and Baguiati for a daylong workshop on Friday, only to learn that 80 per cent of them did not have a driving licence and, worse, cared a fig about it.
If that didn’t make a mockery of the Road Safety Week programme, the auto drivers demanded that they be legally allowed to carry six passengers in violation of the rule-book.
Police sources said the workshop at Chinar Park, near City Centre II on the Rajarhat Expressway, had to be cut short after several auto drivers came up to the stage to make one demand after another.
“We had lined up a presentation on safe driving, personal behaviour, road violations and the penalty for each. But the auto drivers were in no mood to listen to us. They were busy making unjust demands,” said a senior officer of the traffic department.
The demands ranged from freedom to ferry passengers across routes to immunity from fines. Someone even wanted a helpline for drivers to lodge complaints against passengers.
Refreshments were apparently served earlier than planned to keep the guests from making more absurd demands!
Arko Banerjee, the assistant commissioner of police for traffic, and Nilanjan Biswas, the additional commissioner of Bidhannagar City Police, had started the programme by giving tips on safe driving that few in the audience seemed interested in. Many of the drivers were seen smoking and chatting in the back rows when not complaining about “harassment”.
Susanta Mondal, an inspector in the Baguiati Traffic Guard, began the interactive session by asking how many in the audience were inclined to follow traffic rules while driving. The silence in the hall was piercing. He then asked how many didn’t have valid licences and almost every driver raised a hand.
“My licence lapsed last year and I have applied for its renewal. But the public vehicles department has not renewed it,” said Haridas Sarkar, from the Baguiati-Ultadanga route.
After Haridas, driver Rajesh Das stood up to ask: “If Tata Magic and vanos (assembled motorised vans) can ply on Rajarhat Expressway, how can you not allow us to do so?”
Inspector Mondal hadn’t even started responding to the first complaint when another driver made himself heard. “We will follow the rules you have mentioned, but first allow us to carry six passengers. And promise us there won’t be a crackdown.”
The rest of the audience stood up and clapped.
For the next 20 minutes, the police officers tried hard to reason with the auto drivers but with little success.
Additional commissioner Biswas took the mike from Mondal and asked the drivers to calm down. “That’s it, the session has ended,” he announced.
The officer thanked the drivers for attending the session and asked them to return to work, slipping in one last request: follow the rules, please!
Refreshments over, the drivers walked to the nearby Chinar Park auto stand where their vehicles were parked and left with five passengers each.
“To rein in these auto drivers is no easy task,” an inspector was overheard telling a colleague moments before the duo left on a motorbike.