Kolkata, April 3: Kolkata’s autorickshaw drivers stoned buses, forced children to alight from public transport and blocked roads to protest the increase in auto LPG prices, inconveniencing thousands of commuters Tuesday.
As traffic movement was stalled for hours, Trinamool Congress lawmakers and councillors hit the roads and used strongarm tactics to restore normalcy.
The autorickshaw operators, who had launched a movement across the city Monday, shouted slogans against Mamata Banerjee – whose Trinamool Congress is the second largest partner in the centre’s ruling United Progressive Alliance – and put up road blockades at important junctions, triggering traffic snarls in the morning hours.
State-owned oil marketing companies – IOC, BPCL and HPCL – had Sunday hiked the price of auto LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) by nearly Rs.7 a litre.
To protest the move, some autorickshaw drivers hurled stones at buses, damaging wind screens and windows.
After a three-hour disruption, with police failing to ease the situation, Trinamool legislators and councillors swung into action.
Trinamool Congress legislator Paresh Pal got into an altercation with protestors and slapped a couple of them at Kankurgachi of north central Kolkata. Minutes later, Pal forced an autorickshaw driver to pull his ears and do sit-ups. Police also chased away the protestors.
Pal said: “They wanted to create lawlessness. They forced school students to get down from buses. They beat up bus drivers and pedestrians. I had implored them to help in restoring normalcy. They did not pay any heed.
“The commuters, stranded for hours, were fervently pleading that I do something. I did what was necessary. We can’t allow some people to disrupt public life in the name of agitation,” he said.
Transport Minister Madan Mitra accused the communist Party of India-Marxist affiliated trade union CITU of fomenting trouble. “Everybody has the right to protest. But not by harassing the public. CITU is behind this. We have called a meeting. And then we will ensure such disruptions do not occur from Wednesday.”
CITU state president Shaymal Chakraborty, however, supported the protestors. “In Kolkata, the Trinamool has taken control of CITU offices and forced our members to join the All India Trinamool Trade Union Congress. So these workers may be our supporters, but officially they are with the Trinamool.
“The Congress and Trinamool, which run the central government, have to take responsibility as they increased the prices.”