Autorickshaws were off the road on the Garia-Tollygunge route on Monday as drivers protested the judicial remand of a colleague who allegedly tried to murder a passenger on Saturday.
The strikers threatened to continue the protest until the charges levelled against 20-year-old driver Sagar Karmakar were dropped.
Karmakar has been accused of shoving a 35-year-old passenger to the ground and throwing a haymaker punch above his ear that knocked him out cold following a tiff over small change at Ranikuthi. The man allegedly suffered a cut on his head from the assailant’s finger rings.
The accused was promptly arrested and a court on Sunday remanded him in judicial custody till March 1.
As the news spread on Monday morning, 700 autos plying on the route disappeared from the road and left thousands of commuters stranded. By noon, not a single auto could be found.
The drivers said Karmakar had been falsely implicated and alleged that passenger Amol Majumdar had hit him first.
They said Karmakar “had retaliated by punching him below the ear but Majumdar claimed that he needed two stitches above his right ear”.
An officer at Regent Park police station said Majumdar took a blow above his right ear and slumped to the ground.
People travelling in Metros found autos at some stands in Ranikuthi, Malancha and Azadgarh but the drivers didn’t buzz from their position. “We are on strike” was the standard reply.
The commute crisis reached its peak in the evening. With no autos on the road, people were forced to board overcrowded buses on routes, such as 80A, 228 and 205, and minibuses plying on the Harinavi-Howrah station and the Naktala-Howrah station stretches.
“How could anybody get into one of those buses? Look, people are hanging from the footboards. I am trying to hail a taxi but to no avail for the past 30 minutes,” said Subhasree Bhowmick, an undergraduate student on her way to Naktala from Tollygunge.
Residents of areas close to Metro stations such as Naktala and Garia Bazar were spared the trouble, though.
The commuters complained that the auto drivers “always refused” small change and misbehaved.
“They will demand the exact fare. If you don’t have it, they get abusive. The onus is always on you to get the change,” said Saibal Hazra, 45, an employee of a private firm. “We cannot do without the autos because buses on this route are disappearing fast,” said another office worker waiting for transport.