Daylight extortion in the name of parking fee

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 1.11.10
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Illegal double-row parking on Brabourne Road
Vehicles parked on the No Parking stretch on Karl Marx Sarani
The parking lot under the flyover leading to Howrah bridge
RULES
A rate chart approved by the civic body must be put up at the parking lot
The hourly parking rates fixed by the civic body are Rs 3 for two-wheelers; Rs 7 for cars, vans and minibuses; and Rs 14 for buses and lorries
Parking attendants must wear a blue shirt and trousers. The licence tag bearing the permit number must be clipped to the shirt
Attendants must issue receipts against payment
The number of vehicles in a parking lot must not exceed the ceiling fixed by the civic body
Pictures by Tamaghna Banerjee

Extortion rackets thrive in broad daylight across the city in the name of car parking. The rackets — run by cooperatives issued licences by the civic body, in collusion with police and local goons — force car owners to shell out exorbitant sums.

Metro visited three such parking zones where owners have to pay between Rs 20 and Rs 50 per hour for parking their cars. The hourly rates fixed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are Rs 7 for cars and Rs 3 for motorcycles.

Where: Under the flyover leading to Howrah bridge

What we saw: An enclosed area under the flyover is a designated parking lot where at least 900 cars and around 1,000 motorbikes are parked daily. When the area gets full, the attendants allow vehicles to be parked outside illegally, adding to the traffic chaos in one of the busiest zones in the city.

The men collecting the fees did not wear the mandatory uniform — according to the rule, the licence tag must be clipped to the shirt. They also refused to issue parking slips after taking the money.

Parking rate: Rs 50 per hour for cars; Rs 20 per hour for motorcycles.

Victim’s voice: “The men demanded Rs 200 for my Maruti Omni that was parked for three hours and 15 minutes. They threatened me when I asked them to show the civic body-approved rate card,” said Rashbehari Dutta, a resident of Uttarpara. “When I asked for a receipt, they scribbled Rs 200 on a piece of paper.”

Police role: The cops looked the other way while the racket allowed cars to be parked outside the enclosed area. “If they charge a bit extra, talk to them and settle the issue. They are only helping you by providing you with a parking space in this congested place,” said a sergeant posted near the Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing.

Where: Brabourne Road, near Haldirams

What we saw: An array of cars parked on both sides of the road. At places, vehicles were illegally parked in double rows. With the police looking the other way, even No Parking zones, such as the eastern flank of Brabourne Road till Canning Street, were clogged with parked vehicles. Some of the fee collectors were wearing their uniforms but without the licence tag. The approved rate chart could not be found.

Parking rate: Rs 40 per hour for cars; Rs 20 per hour for motorbikes.

Victim’s voice: “I had parked my car for 15 minutes and they charged me Rs 60. After a round of bargaining, the amount came down to Rs 40. No receipt was issued,” said Sandip Das, a Shyambazar resident.

Police role: “The traffic is so chaotic here that we hardly get time to book cars parked in No Parking areas. But still, whenever we spot a violation, we impose a fine on the errant vehicle,” said a sergeant posted at the Synagogue Street crossing.

The fee collectors claimed they had to give a share to the cops. “We had to pay a huge amount as bribe to the civic body to get the parking licence. Plus, we have to keep greasing police palms. So we have to charge a little extra from the users,” said a collector who did not want to be named.

Where: Karl Marx Sarani in Kidderpore, in front of Fancy and Five Star markets

What we saw: The stretch, a No Parking zone, was packed with parked vehicles. Local youths clad in T-shirts and jeans or lungis collected “fees” for cars allowed to be parked illegally. Even two green cops were found collecting “fees”.

Parking rate: Rs 20 per hour for cars; Rs 10 per hour for two-wheelers.

Victim’s voice: “While I was leaving with my car, a middle-aged man clad in a T-shirt and a lungi came up to me and asked for Rs 20. I tried to ignore him but he turned rude. When I handed him a Rs-20 note and asked for a receipt, he replied ‘idhar ye sab nahi milta’,” said Soumya Mukherjee, a resident of Sarsuna.

Police role: Sergeants deployed near the markets were engaged in banter with the “fee collectors”.

Two green cops were seen checking the registration numbers of the parked vehicles and the driving licences. When Metro asked them whether they were booking offenders, the green cops said they were only keeping a record for the local youths who were manning the illegal parking lot. On being asked about the rates that varied significantly from the CMC-approved ones, one of the cops said: “Don’t you know the rates were hiked after the elections (which election he did not care to mention)?”

A “fee collector” later clarified that the green cops were noting down the registration numbers to keep a count of the vehicles parked, so they were not denied of their “due share”.

Officialspeak: The police and the civic body play passing-the-buck game.

“It is the duty of the police to conduct raids and book offenders. We do get complaints but we can hardly do anything unless the police take action,” said a senior civic official in the car parking department.

Dilip Banerjee, the deputy commissioner of police (traffic), said: “The CMC should ban such cooperatives and cancel their licences. We do prosecute offenders whenever we get complaints. But the onus of booking fee collectors acting without uniforms, licences or rate charts lies on the civic body.” Asked about the charge against the cops, Banerjee was silent.

Tamaghna Banerjee