Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Hindu
Commuters in Kolkata will miss the exhilarating beam of yellow cabs (metered taxi) as taxi workers are all set to stage a three-day strike on August 6, 7 and 8. The strike has been called by the Centre of Indian Trade Union-affiliated West Bengal Taxi Workers’ Union and other operators’ associations like Bengal Taxi Association, Calcutta Taxi Association, West Bengal Drivers’ Welfare Association and Progressive Taxi Men’s Union.
The unions blame the governments at the centre and state – Modi and Mamata – for the prevailing discontentment among the taxi drivers in Kolkata, with the former not revising the taxi fares and the later rubbing salt on the wounds by amending the Motor Vehicles Act.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019, was passed earlier this week by both the houses of Parliament. According to the unions, the amendment bill seeks to encourage privatisation in the road transport sector.
Revenue generating services such as licensing and registration are being proposed to be handed over to the corporates with commercial vehicles now needing certification every three years. The ambitious amendments have been proposed without addressing the issue of lack of necessary infrastructure, prompting eventual involvement of private players.
Also read: Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill Will Encourage Privatisation?
As opposed to the socialisation of transport services to allow easy movement of people, such measures will only lead to people being forced to pay more for commuting, resulting many being pushed out, especially those who belong to the lowest rung of the economy, the union members have alleged.
“Why punish the taxi drivers only?” asked Anadi Sahu, general secretary of the West Bengal unit of CITU, while criticising the recently revised hefty fines in the bill.
The bill, according to him, is oriented towards placing all the blame on the drivers for traffic violations or accidents, which if implemented, will cause a huge burden for the metered taxi drivers whose financial sustainability – in the age of application-based taxi services like Ola and Uber – is already in doldrums.
“No driver ever wishes to engage in an accident,” Sahu added, “and accidents are caused not only because of driver’s negligence but due to poor road quality and lack of traffic maintenance as well.”
But with such exorbitant increases in the fines, what it seems is, that the government is trying to absolve itself from its responsibilities, he added.
It is also important to note the plight of these taxi drivers who earn a mere ₹ 300 to ₹ 400 per day and face harassment of the traffic police.
According to some taxi drivers, the situation in the city is so worse that the taxi drivers are stopped and penalised by the traffic cops on a random basis, translating the act into a revenue generating scheme for the state government. A common practice is also observed in other metropolitan cities.
“We are not sure if the hefty fines will ensure road safety, given the conditions of roads in the city and lack of parking space. However, it will certainly fill the pockets of the state government at the cost of the taxi drivers who usually come from the economically weaker sections of the population,” Sahu added.
The drivers are also protesting against the state government for not revising the taxi fare. Last revised in 2018, the taxi drivers demand an increment in the fare structures to include the increased rates of petrol and diesel and other basic commodities.
With 15-16 hours of duty per day and an income that is not enough for their family’s sustenance, the metered taxi drivers are hoping that the strike will attract the attention of the bureaucrats of both the central and the state government to listen to their woes.