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Strike shuts down Kolkata
Published on 24 Jul. 2009 10:49 PM IST
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A transport strike called by commercial vehicle operators disrupted normal life in West Bengal Friday as the Calcutta High Court rejected a plea to extend the deadline for banning vehicles over 15 years old. The agitators withdrew their call for an indefinite strike and plan to move the apex court against the ban order. During the day, private buses, minibuses and taxis kept off the roads inconveniencing commuters, following a strike call against the state government’s decision to implement the court order banning over 15-year-old vehicles after July 31. However, in good news for the Kolkatans, the agitators withdrew their call for an indefinite strike in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area - comprising areas in and around the city. “We are withdrawing the call for an indefinite strike. We are moving the Supreme Court against the high court order,” Kolkata Metropolitan Bus and Minibus Owners Association secretary Swarnakamal Saha told reporters. Serpentine queues were seen before several bus stands across Kolkata, as people stood for hours on the roads for government buses, which were too few. “We faced a harrowing time and couldn’t get to office due to the transport strike. I was supposed to attend an important meeting in my office but failed to reach there,” said Asim Dutta of Howrah district, a bank employee. A large number of private schools had declared a holiday Friday in view of the strike called by at least 17 commercial vehicle operators’ groups. Calcutta University and many other educational institutions also cancelled the exams scheduled for the day. However, the state government claimed it ran extra buses to help commuters. “We ran 1,500-odd buses today. The figure is more than what we run everyday. But the number of passengers were significantly low,” state transport department principal secretary Sumantra Chowdhury said. He said the government had increased the frequency of the ferry service between Howrah and Kolkata from eight to 12. Slogan-shouting protesters were seen moving around in groups in the morning, and allegedly damaged a few taxis in the southern part of the city. Chowdhury said the police were keeping a close watch on the situation after the unpleasant incidents. Meanwhile, the Calcutta High Court rejected a plea by one of the striking bus operators - Bengal bus Syndicate - to extend the deadline, describing as supreme the right of citizens to breathe pollution-free air. A division Bench of Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice B. Somadder also turned down a prayer by environment activist Subhas Datta for an early hearing of the prayer by the bus owners. State Transport Minister Subhas Chakraborty said the government would impose the court order and ban all old commercial vehicles from Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) as per the court directive. The Calcutta High Court July 2008 ordered a ban on commercial vehicles registered before Jan 1, 1993, from Kolkata and its outskirts. It said the order should be implemented by Dec 31, 2008. The Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) includes parts of North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly districts. Later, the date for imposing the ban was put off till July 31, 2009, following a state government plea. The state government decided to phase out old vehicles from July 25 to implement the court order.

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