|Auto driver Samar Das, arrested for scraping a judge’s car near Bijon Setu on Wednesday morning, after being produced before her in the afternoon. (Bibhash Lodh)
An auto driver who allegedly scraped a high court judge’s car on Wednesday was traced, arrested and produced in front of her within hours of the incident, something unprecedented in a city where hundreds of car owners silently suffer auto-cracy every day.
Samar Das, 38, is accused of damaging Justice Sampita Chatterjee’s car while trying to squeeze into the space between two parked autos near the Gariahat end of Bijon Setu at 10.10am. He then allegedly acted as if nothing had happened, like most auto drivers do after any road violation.
Justice Chatterjee didn’t stop to confront him immediately, only noting down the registration number of the auto. Sources said she called police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha immediately after reaching her office around 10.30am, asking him to ensure the driver was arrested and produced before her by 2pm.
The police, often accused of glossing over rash driving and rude behaviour by auto drivers, presented the accused before the judge by 1.45pm, 15 minutes before the deadline.
“The driver was on his way to court, escorted by the officers-in-charge of Gariahat police station and the South East Traffic Guard even as another officer was writing the case diary,” a source said.
Driver Samar is said to have made “an unconditional apology” to Justice Chatterjee in her chamber, only to be told that he would have to face legal proceedings.
“The judge asked the driver how she could forgive him when he had broken the law. She said the police would initiate action against him in accordance with the relevant rules,” the source said.
Justice Chatterjee then enquired about the charges brought against the driver, expressing satisfaction when told that he had been booked under sections 279 (rash and negligent driving) and 427 (causing damage to property worth more than Rs 50) of the IPC.
Both are bailable offences carrying a maximum sentence of two years in jail. “The judge asked the police to follow the rules,” the source said.
Before the police team left the room with the accused, Justice Chatterjee advised him to be cautious while driving. Samar was out on bail by the end of the day.
“We had been asked to produce the driver before the judge by 2pm, which we did. Our sergeants caught him near Kasba police station, escorted him till the Ruby rotary since he was ferrying passengers there and brought him to the police station after everyone had got off. We recorded his personal details, checked his vehicle papers and left for the high court,” said a senior officer at Gariahat police station.
According to the case diary, Samar’s auto (WB 04 3458) plies on the Bijon Setu-Ruby route. He had been trying to park the auto at the stand near Bijon Setu when it scraped Justice Chatterjee’s car.
The judge’s vehicle stopped for a moment but neither she nor the driver stepped out and the auto quickly moved away, the police quoted witnesses as saying.
Based on Justice Chatterjee’s call to police commissioner Purkayastha, instructions were issued to trace and arrest “the auto driver who had scraped the judge’s car as quickly as possible”, sources said.
Ujjwal Roy of Gariahat police station and his counterpart in the South East Traffic Guard, Alok Sanyal, got cracking immediately to arrest and produce the driver before the judge within the deadline set by her.
Wednesday’s chain of events after Justice Chatterjee’s call to the city police chief echoes an incident in September 2003, when Justice Amitava Lala, a former judge of the high court, had been caught in a traffic snarl near Calcutta Press Club because of a rally.
On reaching the high court, Justice Lala had summoned the traffic police chief and asked him not to allow any rally at the city centre from 8am till 8pm on any working day.
Almost every political party criticised the judge’s order, insisting that it was their fundamental right to be able to hold a democratic rally. On the other hand, Justice Lala’s stand helped draw attention to the plight of the commuter on rally days and kick-started a campaign to rid the heart of the city of traffic-choker rallies.
On Wednesday, many citizens wished a police crackdown on auto-cracy would come as promptly even when a judge wasn’t the victim.
On July 19, 2012, a group of auto drivers had assaulted a young couple on Lansdowne Road before driving off with the wife to a lane, where she was again attacked for daring to question one of the drivers who had scraped their car.
The police failed to trace the driver in more than 15 hours. He surrendered in court the next day and got bail immediately.
On August 16, 2012, a four-year-old girl fell off a speeding auto and was dragged along as the driver refused to stop. The girl was left grievously wounded, traumatised and bedridden for over three months.
The police did little to arrest the driver till The Telegraph highlighted the incident. He was arrested on August 20.