By Sirshendu Panth, Kolkata, Aug 17 IANS | 2 months ago

Beware of boarding a taxi in Kolkata. Chances are that you may be thrashed, pushed off or even molested by drivers demanding excess fare or unwilling to ferry you to your destination.


And if the police crack the whip, the cabbies will call flash strikes or launch a violent agitation.

Four times over the past 11 days, the taxi drivers have pulled their vehicles off the roads by calling wildcat strikes or protest walks or even to rush to court for "felicitating" bailed out colleagues earlier arrested for vandalism.

No wonder, outbound travellers have missed trains and flights and those arriving at railway stations and the airport were stranded while the ailing and the old were seen being physically carried by relatives.

But the people's plight has not moved the agitators.

Led by the labour arms of the opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), and backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and a large section of cabbies owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress, they now threaten a "bigger movement".

Come Monday, the cab drivers who ply around 37,000 taxis in the city will protest against so-called "police excesses" -- meaning thereby that Kolkata has to brace up for another taxi-less day.

The bone of contention is the West Bengal government's decision to hike quantum of fine for passenger refusal to Rs.3,000 from a mere Rs.100 and strictly enforce the punitive action.

Passenger refusal has been a major menace faced by commuters.

A senior journalist, who commutes by taxi daily to his south Kolkata office, said: "At night, a couple of drivers will just whizz past, two will rush off after hearing the destination. And two-three others will ask for extra fare, ranging from Rs.20 to Rs.50, and even double."

Swapna Dutta, a housewife, echoed the complaint adding: "They are so rough and uncouth. They demand extra bucks even in the evenings."

In the past months, two passengers were thrashed by a driver and his associate for protesting taxi refusal.

A woman was allegedly molested by a driver. In June, a 73-year-old woman was pushed off a moving vehicle on posh Park Street, after the driver refused to take her to a busy shopping destination.

The Mamata Banerjee government since April has been slapping a Rs.3,000 fine on truant drivers. But having had a free run during the 34-year rule of the Left Front (1977-2011), they are in no mood to be disciplined.

The government even arrested 22 cabbies on non-bailable charges and threatened to scrap the permits of 445 cabs. The drivers secured bail after languishing in jail for four days.

Transport Minister Madan Mitra said: "The drivers cannot take the law in their hands. The government won't tolerate their excesses."

However, CPI-M arm's CITU leader Anadi Sahu does not agree. "The steep increase of fine for refusal is illegal. Steep fines are being imposed on taxis even for carrying articles of passengers.

"The drivers are facing hardship due to diesel price rise and costlier items of daily use. This forces them to refuse late at night or go for destinations from where they won't get any other passenger," Sahu, a former minister, told IANS.

But Bengal Taxi Association general secretary Bimal Guha opposed Sahu. "Yes, the steep fine is illegal. For this, we will move court. But, why inconvenience passengers?"

(Posted on 17-08-2014)

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