There is a certain heart-rending dimension to the long-delayed blueprint for auto-rickshaw operators in Kolkata, the Durgapur-Asansol region, and the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri belt.
The revamped mode of operation, scheduled to come into force from September 1, has been formulated by West Bengal’s transport department after a baby was recently thrown off its mother’s arms onto the road, there to die almost instantaneously. transport department
Whether the reason was the appalling road condition or the almost maniacal application of the brake can merely be speculated upon, and can scarcely lessen the grief of the bereaved family.
The short point must be that the infant deserved better from adults ~ the auto operators, the PWD and the KMC’s roads department, and also, of course, the traffic police who, as often as not, are in cahoots with the drivers of the three-wheelers and even in the matter of parking on thoroughfares.
It would be no exaggeration to aver that over time the autos, however integral to the urban landscape, have virtually institutionalised the illegalities. Many an adult has miraculously survived after being thrown off the front seat, in itself an illegality that is tacitly condoned.
A seemingly convenient mode of urban transportation, that was initially intended to serve as an adjunct to the Metro, is now fraught means of conveyance. Rather late in the day, the transport department has got its parameters right, but it shall be open to question whether it will eventually be able to rein in the generally condemned “rogue auto drivers”.
The effectiveness of the new roadmap will hinge substantially on the execution. And the experience cannot readily inspire optimism when we recall the defiance and chaotic switchover from the polluting diesel to LPG. At the core of the problem is the domination of the union, that is invariably affiliated to the party in power.
The new rules have ruled out union support for errant drivers, but this is easier contemplated than executed. It is the auto driver who has exacerbated the chaos on the roads during peak hour. The abrupt change of routes ~ to maximise the fare ~ will belatedly be disallowed with stringent orders to cover the entire route.
Quite the most critical is the proposed cancellation of the auto permit in the event of molestation and sexual harassment ~ a fairly frequent occurrence at Salt Lake’s Sector 5 and the Jadavpur-Garia region. Many a woman commuter has suffered grievous injury in course of travel over a dispute over small change.
The blueprint has envisaged that all autos are to be legalised, a signal of intent that testifies to the existence of vehicles that are thriving without licence, and in step with the expansion of the city from the eastern periphery to the far south. The auto, in a word, showcases the collapse of law and order in the transport sector. The outlook is uncertain.