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Violence in Kolkata over auto ban

Special Correspondent

— Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Anger on the streets: Trinamool Congress-backed autorickshaw operators went on the rampage during a protest at Park Circus in South Kolkata on Saturday, spreading panic among the public. They torched three buses and damaged several vehicles during their agitation against a ban by the Calcutta High Court on polluting two-stroke three-wheelers, from January 1.

Kolkata: There was violence in some parts of the city on Saturday during a 12-hour taxi and autorickshaw strike called by Trinamool Congress-backed unions to protest against the seizure of autos and arrest of 18 people during Friday’s agitation against the ban imposed by the Calcutta High Court from January 1 on two-stroke autorickshaws on pollution grounds.

Three State government-owned buses were torched (out of the six attacked) as auto drivers went on a rampage, sparking panic among bus passengers, pedestrians and schoolchildren returning home.

According to reports, some of the buses were torched by miscreants who had faked themselves as passengers. “People barely got time to disembark, even as the fire was being lit,” eyewitnesses said. People bringing relatives to the hospital or getting them released had a trying time finding any transport with autos and taxis off the road. The traffic disruptions following the violence only added to their woes.

The CPI(M) took out processions protesting the violence while the Trinamool led demonstrations against the police action.

Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi said: “I deplore the destruction of public property and disruption of public life that we have witnessed in the last few hours. It does not enhance the interest of the autorickshaw owners or drivers. Nor does it protect the interest of the poorest of the poor, for they suffer from air pollution, the most.”

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the government would appeal to the court. “We too have a sense of responsibility towards the auto drivers’ future,” he said.

Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said the State government was trying to follow the High Court’s order which had banned the plying of two-stroke engine autos as they caused pollution. “If they [the auto drivers] have any problem they can approach the court.”

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