The Telegraph
Monday , August 11 , 2014
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Cab chaos on Monday menu

Brace yourself for taxi torment on the first working day of the week as the Left-backed unions resume their protest against the government’s crackdown on cabbies.

Metro highlights the disruption potential of Monday’s “law-violation programme” amid fears that it might be a rerun of last Thursday’s protest that had brought the city centre to a standstill.

● How many taxis will go off the road on Monday?

Of the 30,000-odd taxis in Calcutta, at least 8,000 owing allegiance to the Left-backed unions won’t ply. The protest ranks will swell if drivers representing the Congress, Trinamul Congress and BJP unions join in like they did last Thursday during the strike by Citu and the CPI-run All India Trade Union Congress.

While taxi unions affiliated to the Trinamul Congress, BJP and the Congress aren’t officially part of the protest plan, many are expected to jump on the bandwagon. Sources said at least 10,000 taxi drivers would converge on Raja Subodh Mullick Square in central Calcutta and march to Rani Rashmoni Avenue from there to protest “police excesses”.

The taxi drivers’ main grouse is the fine of Rs 3,000 for refusing passengers.

● What was the mood on Monday eve?

“I won’t bring out my taxi tomorrow. I will meet other taxi drivers in Tollygunge around noon and reach the rally venue in a Matador,” said Rajesh Prasad, a cabbie who lives in Garia and identifies himself as a Trinamul Congress supporter. Pratap Singh, a taxi driver from Behala, was on wait-and-watch mode. “If drivers take out their cars, I will do the same. But that depends on whether there is any violence.”

Sanjay Singh, a resident of Kasba who owns two taxis, said: “I don’t want to risk damage to any of my taxis if there is a repeat of the violence last Thursday. So I have asked my drivers not to take out the vehicles on Monday.”

● What are the unions saying?

“We have asked all the taxi unions, irrespective of their political affiliation, to join us,” said Subhas Mukherjee of the Citu-affiliated West Bengal Taxi Workers’ Union.

“We have urged even taxi owners to join in for the cause. Many of them have agreed,” said a senior leader of the AITUC-run union.

Rahul Sinha of the BJP played it safe. “We won’t join in but if a taxi driver wants to do so, our party will have nothing to do with it,” he said.

● Which roads are likely to be choked?

JL Nehru Road, Dorina Crossing, RR Avenue, SN Banerjee Road, CR Avenue, Government Place East Road, Part Street, Esplanade East Road, Lenin Sarani, Ganesh Chandra Avenue, Nirmal Chandra Street and BB Ganguly Street.

● How long could the disruption continue?

The rally is scheduled to start at 2pm but the gathering at the city centre will build up from noon. Last Thursday’s rally had started at 3pm but traffic was disrupted from two hours earlier. The protest lasted three-and-a-half hours, culminating in a lathicharge.

● What is the government’s stand?

Transport minister Madan Mitra didn’t take calls from Metro throughout Sunday. He had warned of strict action the previous day if the unions continued to tread the path of agitation.

Twenty-one taxi drivers were arrested and booked for “rioting with deadly weapons” and 400 more showcaused by the Motor Vehicles department for not plying their taxis last Thursday in violation of a clause in their vehicle permit. The first offence can invite a jail term of up to three years.

The prospect of a backlash from the government — chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said she would not tolerate rebellion — could be the only deterrent to a repeat on Monday.

But leaders of the taxi unions have said that their members are ready to court arrest.

● What would the police do?

Joint commissioner of police (headquarters) Rajiv Mishra said at least 500 cops would be deployed at the Esplanade crossing to prevent any untoward incident and ensure normal traffic. “A team of officers will be in the control room for back-up.”

Sources in Lalbazar, the police headquarters, said traffic cops would be deployed as usual at the taxi bays on Monday.