West Bengal hit hard as private buses go off roads (Lead)

December 11th, 2008 - 12:15 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Dec 10 (IANS) Commuters had a harrowing time in West Bengal as private buses kept off the roads across the state Wednesday in support of a 24-hour shut-down called by the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) trade union arm. From Siliguri in the northern part of the state to Diamond Harbour in the south, long queues of people were seen at auto-rickshaw and taxi stands, while overcrowded public buses made travelling a nightmarish experience.

The strike was called by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)-supported West Bengal Road Transport Workers Federation (WBRTWF) to protest the state government’s decision to prosecute bus drivers under the non-bailable section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in case of fatal accidents.

The strike was finally withdrawn in the evening after a round of discussions between the state government and the WBRTWF.

But throughout the day, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers fleeced passengers due to lack of alternatives.

People travelling to the various districts from Kolkata and vice versa were also inconvenienced, as long-distance buses also did not ply.

In neighbouring Howrah district, passengers at the Howrah station - the gateway to the city - seemed a harried lot and had to wait for hours for a vehicle. And when they did manage to get one at last, they had to shell out many times more than the regulation amount.

In Hooghly district, the busy Gharir More junction in district headquarters Chinsurah saw pedestrians running after any vehicle they came across.

“The government buses are too few and far between. I am waiting with my son, who has to reach school. I don’t know what I will do,” said Siddhartha Nag.

It was the same tale of public inconvenience in Kolkata.

“I stood at the auto stand at Gariahat crossing in south Kolkata from 8 a.m. and finally my turn to board an auto came around 9.15 a.m. Not only was I late for office, but also had to pay Rs.15 instead of Rs.6 ,” said Nikita Dutta, who works for a private bank.

Long queues were also seen at all railways and Metro rail ticket counters.

“More state buses should have been plying, but the situation is opposite. And even if a bus comes every 30 minutes, it’s so overcrowded that people are seen hanging on at the doors, ” said Manoj Chakraborty, an officer-goer.

A few city schools declared a holiday Wednesday and exams in some colleges were postponed.

Subhas Mukherjee, spokesperson of the WBRTWF, told reporters: “We are aware that people are being harassed because of our strike and our heart-felt apologies go out to them. But they should understand that our demand is justified. It’s not that the driver is always responsible for an accident. It’s unfair to put all the blame on one person and put him behind bars.”

About 10,000 private buses and 2,500 mini-buses ply across the city every day.

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