Amid protests, ‘polluting’ vehicles off Kolkata roads


Kolkata : Commuters here had a tough time Saturday as taxis and auto rickshaws kept off the roads while police started seizing commercial vehicles over 15 years old in accordance with a court order. Protesting vehicle operators damaged six buses and put up road blocks, police said.

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“The situation is generally peaceful. There is a strong police arrangement. The only disturbance was reported from the Tollygunge area under Regent Park police station, which is under the jurisdiction of the West Bengal police,” Kolkata Police Deputy Commissioner (detective department) Jawed Shamim told IANS here.

Shamim said two vehicles — an auto rickshaw and a taxi — had been seized so far.

“Practically no auto rickshaws are plying. Only a few green autos hit the streets,” he said, on the first day of the Calcutta High Court-imposed ban on old commercial vehicles which are the principal source of high air pollution in the city.

The decks were cleared for the government to seize the buses, mini buses, taxis and auto rickshaws after the Supreme Court Friday refused to stay the high court order banning commercial vehicles built before 1993.

Police and Rapid Action Force personnel were deployed in large number to prevent disturbances, as security personnel moved alongside motor vehicles department officials to identify the banned vehicles on the city streets.

Nearly 4,000 private buses, 6,800 taxis and more than 95 percent of the total fleet of 65,000 auto-rickshaws have been barred from the Kolkata Metropolitan Area following the court order.

Meanwhile, following main opposition Trinamool Congress chief and Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee’s accusation that government departments like the police as also the Kolkata Municipal Corporation were running vehicles over 15 years old, Police Commissioner Goutam Mohan Chakraborty said the city police have decided not to deploy such vehicles.

Taxi Bachao Committee (Save Taxis committee) president Bimal Guha told IANS that though about 6,800 of the 37,000 taxis that ply in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area come under the ban, “5,800 taxi owners have already applied for replacement.

“But the government has failed to make available the replacement vehicles by talking to Hindustan Motors. So, about 1,000 taxis are not plying,” Guha said.

“The court has not banned two-stroke LPG mode autos. But the government is insisting that only autos with four-stroke engines will be allowed. So, almost the entire fleet of autos is off the roads,” said auto union leader Tapan Agasthi.

Jyotiraditya Guha, a college student, who had to cling dangerously to the footboard of an overcrowded bus Saturday, shuddered to think of the scene from Monday. “Saturday and Sunday are government holidays. So fewer people are out on roads. The situation will be really bad from Monday. I don’t know how I will travel,” he said.

Banerjee had said the withdrawal should be done in phases, noting that one million people comprising the transport operators, workers and their families will be affected by the ban.

“I support the environmental concerns. But the economic condition of these people will also have to considered. Maybe the government can try out using LPG cylinders in these vehicles to meet the emission norms,” he said.

The Calcutta High Court in July 2008 ordered a ban on commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993 from Kolkata Metropolitan Area, which includes parts of North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts.

The ban was originally supposed to come into effect Dec 31, 2008, but was put off till July 31, 2009, following a government plea.