Drive for justice
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- Published 2.03.12
Awar of words is set to commence in court next week over an autorickshaw route in Sector III. A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed and will be heard in Calcutta High Court on March 7 about the demarcated route from Sports Authority of India (SAI) complex to Sector V, which autos have been refusing to take for years now.
Autos granted permits on Route 93 are supposed to set off from SAI complex, take a right turn to reach KB-KC blocks and travel parallel to the Broadway, crossing landmarks like Tank 14, Our Lady Queen of the Missions school, Tank 12 and GD Market. Once they reach Tank 10 they are to take a right turn and head to Sector V. Then they are to cross Wipro, IBM Building and College More before reaching their last stop at Rotary Narayana Nethralaya.
However the PIL alleges that the autos violate the route and travel along the Broadway to reach Karunamoyee, and go no further.
The case has been petitioned by Saurav Mondal, a lawyer from Burdwan, against the state of West Bengal and others. “Route 93 was notified in an issue of The Kolkata Gazette published on April 30, 2003,” says Mondal’s advocate Anindya Lahiri. “There Route 93 is described to extend from SAI to Karunamoyee, via KB-KC block. Then on August 2, 2010 this route was revised to be from SAI to Rotary Nethralaya via KB/KC Block and Karunamoyee.”
Residents living on the defined route of these autos claim they never plied there at all. “I have lived here for 23 years and never had the good fortune of boarding any such auto,” says Prabhat Kumar Singh of KC Block.
KB Block’s Soma Aich says she has a tough time getting to tuitions in IC Block and the homeopathy hospital in GE Block without autos. “The only buses here are on route 239 and a minibus from Karunamoyee to BBD Bag but both are infrequent. And rickshaw rides are expensive.”
Had the autos plied on the designated route they could also have picked up passengers living in blocks like JC, IB, HB, GD, FE and EE.
So on January 31 this year, 121 residents of blocks KB, KC, LA and RBI Staff Quarters signed a petition about the violation of the auto route and sent copies to the Regional Transport Authority, Bidhannagar commissionerate, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, sub-divisional officer and the inspector in charge of Bidhannagar south police station.
When no action was taken they decided to move court. But none of the residents wanted to get embroiled in legal affairs and so Mondal was requested to petition on their behalf. The case is being fought against the administrative bodies mentioned above, the state of West Bengal, the director general of police, the secretary of the home department and the 52 auto drivers (named individually) who are said to violate their permit.
Auto drivers’ plea
The 52 autos in question are under the Indian National Trinamul Trade Union Congress and the president of their Salt Lake wing says he will ask the drivers to toe the line. “In 2003, when Route 93 was introduced we would not get enough passengers along KB-KC blocks and it was a loss-making trip. Also, the autos plying from Karunamoyee to Sector V wouldn’t let our men enter Sector V as their passengers would get split,” claims president Dilip Ghosh.
The accused auto drivers have a sob story. “It is impractical for autos to ply along KB-KC blocks as the roads there are too narrow. Children play there on the streets, making it unsafe for us to ply. The road is barely two-lanes wide and there is no way of overtaking slow-moving buses,” says a driver on the route who prefers to drive on Broadway instead. “Autos are not meant to ply within blocks.”
Another driver feels that such narrow lanes are fit only for rickshaws. “The rickshaw-pullers of the stand opposite us came to plead with us to stop plying along KB-KC blocks. Their rickshaw permits allow them to travel only in this area and if autos offer passengers cheaper and faster rides, rickshaw-pullers will earn nothing,” says a driver at the stand near SAI complex.
The new police commissionerate has been keeping vigil on autos violating routes and three such autos on Route 93 were caught on February 21. “We were fined Rs 3,000 each,” says a driver. “The 52 autos on Route 93 did not ply at all for two days in protest. Commuters were inconvenienced. The administration has to empathise with us. The Broadway draws enough commuters for me to afford two square meals for my family. On the KB-KC route, we will starve.”