The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

'Auto'cracy

It was shocking to see the unions of all colours fighting tooth and nail the high court-imposed two-stroke auto rickshaw ban on ground of air pollution with effect from January 2009. All the unions have auto rickshaw drivers under them flaunting the union flags in the vehicles so that the police thinks twice before touching them to enforce the ban. The Trinamool Congress union is the most aggressive, what with processions on the road and torching govt. buses. The red union (CITU, the union of CPI(M)), is strategically silent (while flouting the ban of course), as their govt. has to enforce the ban.

It would be a severe understatement to call the present govt. 'callous' or 'worthless' in fighting vehicular pollution in Kolkata, caused in the first place by the auotos running on dated engines mostly on adulterated fuel (popularly known as 'kata tel' in Bengali), followed closely by the government's own buses. On one hand it has never taken any proactive step towards fighting the city's history of severe air pollution and on the other hand it has routinely missed deadline after deadline to impose the court rule towards controlling air pollution and shamelessly bought time over and over again from it to enforce the rule.

But what also pains me as a citizen is the negative, anti-people politics practised by the unions of the ruling party and the main opposition (Trinamool Congress). Wouldn't it serve both purposes- of the people and of the auto rickshaw drivers- if they got into the act just after the July 2008 ruling of the blanket ban on all two-stroke autos with effect from January 1, 2009? Yes, they have a point: Two-strokers are not 'banned' in other metros and the ban means scrapping the two-strokers and buying four-stroke versions requiring a spend of more than a lakh per vehicle thereby putting the thousands of families dependant on these auto rickshaws under stake. But wouldn't there be a possibility of an actionable solution by December 08 if they joined hands and moved the court with the government in confidence? The road politics that includes frequent demonstration and strike are paining the daily commuters hard. So its a case of defeating purposes of both sides- the livelihood (of auto drivers) and the service to the innumerable daily commuters.