10 Dec 2008, 1142 hrs IST, TNN
KOLKATA: Buses will stay off the road, crippling the transport system in Kolkata and the rest of the state on Wednesday to protest the imposition of section 304 A on drivers involved in fatal accidents. More than 22,000 buses, including 12,000 in Kolkata, will join the Citu-sponsored bus strike. Citu has also demanded a further reduction in petroleum prices. "It is unfair to charge drivers under section 304 A which is non-bailable. Accidents occur due to several reasons, the driver is rarely the only culprit. Road conditions, traffic rules and pedestrians are also responsible but under this rule, only the driver is being charged," said Subhas Mukherjee, joint secretary of the Citu-backed West Bengal Road Transport Workers' Union.
Previously, drivers were booked under section 304 and could get bail if involved in a fatal accident. While 10,000 private buses and 2,500 mini buses ply in Kolkata, the respective figures for the state were 18,000 and 5,000. "The demands are perfectly justified. Drivers are being harassed and punished for no fault of theirs. But the decision to call the strike was taken by Citu. We were looking forward to a meeting with them but that did not happen," said Swarnakamal Saha, president of the Bengal Bus Syndicate.
The Joint Council of Bus Syndicates (JCBS) has also supported the strike. "The strike will derail the transport system but it can't be helped. Drivers are being given a raw deal and everybody is scared. The rule needs to be altered," said Tapan Banerjee, secretary of JCBS. Home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said the matter was in the jurisdiction of the state. "It is a union-sponsored strike and we have little to do. If they come to us with their demands, we can consider them," said Chakrabarti.