Free Press Journal

People hit as taxis again keep off Kolkata streets


Kolkata: For the fifth time over the past 12 days, commuters here had a harrowing time as taxis kept off roads Monday with cab drivers continuing their agitation protesting against police “excesses”.

Hundreds of cabbies took part in a condemnation rally at the Dorina Crossing in the city centre Esplanade, decrying the government’s move to seek cancellation of bail of 21 drivers arrested earlier for vandalism.

The metro trains and public buses were packed, particularly in the peak hours, and serpentine queues seen in auto-rickshaw and cycle-rickshaw stands.

People arriving in the city through the Howrah and Sealdah stations and the NSC Bose International Airport were left stranded for hours in the absence of taxis.

“For the last one hour, I have been looking for a taxi. But even the pre-paid taxi booth is empty,” said middle-aged Ram Srvastava at the Howrah station.

“After a long search, one taxi agreed to go, but asked for Rs.1,000 for a 15 km distance,” said another passenger, seemingly at his wit’s end. Kolkata taxis charge around Rs 12.50 per km on normal days.

Since Aug 7, the taxi drivers have on five occasions pulled their vehicles off the roads by calling wildcat strikes or protest walks or even to rush to the court for “felicitating” bailed out colleagues earlier arrested for vandalism.

At the centre of the dispute is the government decision to increase the fine for passenger refusal from Rs.100 to Rs.3,000 to combat repeated complaints of refusals.

The government earlier this month arrested 22 drivers for vandalism as they damaged taxis which did not heed their call and continued plying. They were released on bail after spending four days in jail.

However, with the taxi drivers bent on continuing their stir, led by the labour arms of the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Party of India, the government late last week moved court seeking cancellation of the bail granted to the 22 drivers.