Kolkata commuters suffer as vehicle ban is implemented


Kolkata: Commuters here had a tough time as a large number of buses, auto rickshaws and taxis kept off the roads Saturday and authorities seized over-15-year-old commercial vehicles following a ban by the Calcutta High Court.

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Protesting vehicle operators damaged six buses and put up road blocks at different localities across the city, police said. However, the West Bengal government asserted that the drive will continue and said the transport department will ply 1,600 extra buses in the city from Sunday.

“The situation was more or less peaceful. There was a strong police arrangement. The only disturbance was reported from Tollygunge area,” said police deputy commissioner (detective department) Jawed Shamim.

“Practically no auto rickshaws were seen on the roads. Only a few green autos hit the streets,” he said.

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, aimed at curbing pollution.

“We’ve seized altogether three taxis, one auto and a public bus, all were more than 15-year-old commercial vehicles, from Kolkata today,” Shamim said.

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

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

Kolkata Police Commissioner Goutam Mohan Chakraborty said police had also decided not to run vehicles older than 15 years.

Taxi Bachao Committee president Bimal Guha told IANS that though about 6,800 of the 37,000 taxis 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.

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