Kolkata auto-rickshaw drivers protest ban, Trinamool calls strike (Lead)

January 2nd, 2009 - 11:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Jan 2 (IANS) Agitated auto-rickshaw drivers set ablaze a government bus here Friday, opposing the court ban on two-stroke public transport vehicles in the city, while the opposition Trinamool Congress stepped into the protest and called for a 12-hour auto and taxi strike Saturday.Auto drivers at Hazra Crossing in south Kolkata’s Bhowanipore area refused to show registration documents of their vehicles and started protesting when the police tried to seize five two-stroke auto-rickshaws. An altercation ensued and the agitated drivers went on the rampage and set a bus on fire. The incident caused a major traffic jam.

A fire brigade team from the nearby Kalighat fire station rushed to douse the blaze. The situation was brought under control after an hour-long struggle.

The police said auto-rickshaw drivers at Taratala and Ekbalpore areas of south Kolkata also staged angry demonstratuions against the ban that has been ordered by the Calcutta High Court.

Senior Trinamool Congress leaders also hit the streets in southern Kolkata and took out rallies against the police action on protesting auto drivers.

Trinamool Congress immediately called a 12-hour auto-rickshaw and taxi strike in the city Saturday.

“We have called a 12-hour (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) auto-taxi strike in and around Kolkata Saturday, protesting the brutal police action on the auto drivers,” senior Trinamool Congress leader Madan Mitra told IANS.

He said the half-day strike would be peaceful.

Earlier in the day, TRinamool supremo Mamata Banrjee threated to call a shutdown over the issue.

“If the Left Front government in West Bengal takes such action against auto drivers and clamps down on auto-rickshaws across the city, we’ll have to think of a shutdown call,” said Banerjee.

“We are not in favour of any strike but the state government is again compelling us to take the same path,” she said.

“The state government is just resorting to muscle power and trying to impose the ban overnight. There are around 300,000 people in Kolkata who will be directly affected if the state government implements the ban in such a short span,” Banerjee said.

“The government bus, said to be torched by auto-rickshaw drivers at Hazra road, was set on fire by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) activists,” she alleged. CITU is the labour arm of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

“We don’t believe in such violence in politics. We will definitely stage our protest against the police action on auto drivers but that would be in a peaceful manner,” she said.

The Calcutta High Court issued an order July last year to ban commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993, from Kolkata and its outskirts.

The court directed that all auto-rickshaws, irrespective of their date of registration, will have to convert to either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

It said the order should be implemented by Dec 31, 2008, in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, which includes parts of north and south 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.

It is estimated that around 80,000 auto-rickshaws, 24,000 taxis and over 8,000 buses and mini-buses would be affected by the implementation of the court order.

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