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30,000 taxis stay off Kolkata roads, commuters hit

Harried commuters here Monday ran helter skelter, trying to get into buses, or formed serpentine queues in front of auto-rickshaw stands, as taxi drivers pulled their vehicles off the roads yet again, protesting police excesses

Kolkata: People had a harrowing time reaching their destinations today as more than 30,000 taxis in the city went off the roads on a 'wild-cat strike' by drivers demanding release of 22 fellow cabbies arrested by the police for enforcing a strike last week.

Taxi drivers owing allegiance to CITU did not bring out their vehicles this morning and also forced those who were running their taxis to stop plying in different parts of the city.

The cabbies have also threatened to continue the strike indefinitely until the 22 drivers, who have been booked by Kolkata Police under non-bailable sections were released.

"We support the drivers' resolve not to bring out taxis till the 22 arrested persons are released," CITU state president Shyamal Chakraborti said.

Chakraborti, who participated in a rally and agitation by the drivers in front of Transport Minister Madan Mitra's office, said while addressing them that they should not bring out their cabs till the arrested cabbies were released.

Thousands of people in the N S C Bose International Airport, Howrah, and Sealdah stations, hospitals and other busy places were put into great inconvenience in reaching their destinations in the absence of the taxis.

Office-goers were taken by surprise as the strike had not been announced earlier.

The cabbies are also demanding that the government's plan to scrap permit and license of about 450 taxis for their owners' participation in last week's strike be stopped.

Chakraborti said the drivers were holding a protest-march in support of their demands including a halt on alleged police harrassment and a penalty of Rs 3,000 for passenger refusal.

The president of Bengal Taxi Association, the largest association of taxi owners in West Bengal, Bimal Guha, did not support the strike saying, "This should not happen. The drivers must keep in mind the interest of passengers." "The drivers should be released and the harrassment should also stop, but strike is not the way to protest," Guha observed.

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