Autorickshaw operators set buses ablaze in Kolkata

January 3rd, 2009 - 1:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Jan 3 (IANS) Two buses were set ablaze Saturday by protesting Trinamool Congress-backed auto-rickshaw operators protesting a court ban on ageing public transport vehicles in the city and to demand the release of 18 arrested protesters. Commuters were greatly inconvenienced as very few auto-rickshaws and taxis plied on the road in response to the Trinamool Congress-sponsored 12-hour strike.

The agitators turned violent and stoned and set fire to a West Bengal Transport Corporation bus in Park Circus in south Kolkata. The bus was only partially damaged as locals managed to douse the flames. No one was injured.

Another state-run bus was set ablaze in the same area.

The protesters stoned three other buses, smashing the glass panes. They also forced auto and taxi operators who had brought out their vehicles to join the strike.

At several points, agitators carrying bricks and canes stopped autos and taxis and forced the passengers to alight.

The auto operators took out several small and medium sized rallies throughout the city.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who was on a sit-in Friday night near the residence of West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, withdrew from the spot in the wee hours Saturday and left for bypoll-bound Nandigram assembly constituency.

On Friday, auto drivers had set afire a bus and staged angry protests in various parts of the city 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.

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). The order was to 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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