As the one-day nationwide strike crippled life in West Bengal on Tuesday, the taxi drivers and rickshaw pullers of Kolkata were in a festive mood as they made a killing by transporting passengers stranded at the airport and railway stations at exorbitant rates.
The one-day nationwide shutdown was called by eight major trade unions, including those of the Left and the Congress to protest against price rise, violation of labour laws and privatisation.
The railway services were normal as they were kept out of the shutdown but the passengers had a harrowing time reaching railway stations or returning home after a train journey as government and private buses were not plying on the roads.
“I reached Howrah station after a 17-hour train journey. But now I find that the prepaid taxi booth is closed and a few taxis and private cars, which are plying, are charging up to Rs.1,000 without any reason. The taxi fare from Howrah to my home is just Rs.200. These bandhs (shutdowns) are simply disgusting,” said Harish Ray, a passenger stranded at Howrah station.
Another passenger, Monica Kundu, said: “Why do these politicians call for a bandh? They don’t serve any purpose. It only harasses common people. And these taxis are charging a lot more than the original fare and on top of it we have to share it with others.”
The scene was more or less similar at the Netaji Subhash Bose International Airport. Just ten flights of the state-run Air India took off from the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (NSCB) International Airport.
Moreover, even the rickshaw pullers were charging Rs.200 to 300 for a trip, which would fetch them Rs.30 to Rs.50 on a normal day.
“I just reached Kolkata. I was not aware of the bandh. The rickshaw pullers are charging Rs.300 for a ride from the airport to Salt Lake. I don’t know how I will reach my home,” said Rupak Kundu.
Sheikh Habibur, who was stranded at the airport since morning, said: "I come here (Kolkata) to celebrate Eid with my family. But never even in my worst nightmare did I imagine that I will have to face such harassment after reaching Kolkata. I have to go to Park Circus but I don't know how to reach. The rickshaw is charging Rs.500 and the taxis are asking for Rs.1,000. This is disgusting," he said.
The strike was called by the Coordination Committee of the Central Trade Unions headed by Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) president G. Sanjeeva Reddy.