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People stuck as autos go off roads

People wait for buses in the Ranikuthi area on Thursday. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta

Tollygunge: Hundreds of people had a tough time in south Calcutta on Thursday as autos on two routes went off the roads for different reasons.

Autos remained off one of Calcutta's busiest routes, Tollygunge-Garia, on Thursday to protest the arrest of a colleague on molestation charges.

On the Tollygunge-Hazra route, autos stopped running in the afternoon to protest more people joining their ranks.

A proposal of allowing a few women to drive autos on the route has been doing the rounds.

The show of unity among auto operators owing allegiance to the Trinamul trade union left commuters struggling to board overcrowded buses.

Several union leaders of the Tollygunge-Garia route defended the driver arrested after an elderly woman accused him of molesting her while she was seated beside him.

"He has been driving autos for three decades now and there has never been any complaint against him," a union member said. "We don't accept his arrest on molestation charges."

Debasish Mondal from Dum Dum was in a hurry to reach his clients. A medical representative, Das had to reach an area near Bansdroni on Thursday morning. With no autos and crowded buses, Das appeared helpless. "I didn't know autos weren't plying. I don't know if I can complete my task."

More than 800 autos ply on the Tollygunge-Garia route, about 8km. Most drivers don't go the full length because it's "time consuming". So, operators go for small trips and charge fares at will.

"An auto driver pays Rs 250 to the owner daily, Rs 150 for LPG, and another Rs 100 for food and other expenses," an auto driver said. "At the end of the day if he doesn't have Rs 200-300, it would be difficult to survive."

"Autos are now pitted against buses, minibuses and the Metro. Any addition to the existing fleet would mean eating into the share of daily returns," Tarak Dey, secretary of the Trinamul-led auto union on the Tollygunge-Hazra route, said.

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