Autos off roads over pandal site dispute

Autorickshaws plying between Tollygunge Circular Road and New Alipore, Taratala and Behala went off the roads on Wednesday after the owner of a footpath stall refused to move out to let the three-wheeler operators erect a pandal for Vishwakarma Puja.

By Kinsuk Basu
  • Published 13.09.18
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Autos parked at Tollygunge Phari on Wednesday. The operators refused to ply their vehicles following a dispute over a space where they want to set up a pandal. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Tollygunge: Autorickshaws plying between Tollygunge Circular Road and New Alipore, Taratala and Behala went off the roads on Wednesday after the owner of a footpath stall refused to move out to let the three-wheeler operators erect a pandal for Vishwakarma Puja.

The stretch where the operators want to set up the pandal is near the intersection of Tollygunge Circular Road and Deshpran Sashmal Road.

The operators, backed by the INTTUC, the trade union arm of the Trinamul Congress, said they wanted the owner of the biriyani shop to vacate the space from September 15 to 19 to make room for the pandal. The owner has refused.

The row over the space and the subsequent withdrawal of autos left daily commuters in the lurch, forcing them to take buses to reach New Alipore or Behala through snarls.

Many harassed commuters complained that travelling in buses, which lack the manoeuvrability of autos, through New Alipore or Behala has been a nightmare since the collapse of the Majerhat bridge on September 4.

"I have to reach Block B in New Alipore. There are no autos. The buses and mini-buses, as well as autos on other routes, are all packed," said Gaurab Basu Mullick, a resident of Behala. "We have become puppets in the hands of the auto operators."

Around 170 autos ply on the Rabindra Sarobar Metro station-Taratala and the Tollygunge Phari-Behala routes. The fare for travelling the entire stretch on the first route is Rs 11 and on the second, Rs 14.

Since the collapse of the Majerhat bridge, the autos on these two routes have been the most convenient mode of transport for a large number of people from Behala, Thakurpukur and New Alipore to reach Chetla, Rashbehari Avenue and Kalighat.

With the operators suddenly withdrawing their autos, most commuters had to depend on buses and minibuses.

Many who waited for autos at the intersection of Tollygunge Circular Road and Deshpran Sashmal Road had to move either to Prince Anwar Shah Road or Rashbehari Avenue to board a three-wheeler.

"Getting a seat in an auto headed for Taratala from Tollygunge Phari was out of question around 11am. So, I went to the Rashbehari crossing. Police had by then stopped movement of vehicles towards Chetla. I was trapped," recounted Avijit Mitra.

Senior officers managing traffic said they had told the operators to be back on the roads but they remained defiant. "They want us to decide on an alternative spot for the pandal. We have stayed out of the matter," an officer of the Tollygunge traffic guard said.

Some operators said they had allowed the stall owner to set up shop at the doorstep of their party office on condition that he would move out every year during Vishwakarma Puja.

"We have been holding the puja at this site for three decades. We had helped the owner set up shop at this place. Now, he is refusing to move out," said Sambhu Chakrabarty, a senior INTTUC leader. "We have told the owner that we will dismantle the shop and set it up at our cost. But he is not listening."