Kolkata airport has found an out-of-the-box solution to the problem of boorish behaviour by staff manning its parking fee collection plaza at the exit gate. It has just replaced the men with an all-women force during the day shift. And the move, if the first few days of this unique gender experiment are anything to go by, has worked wonders. The decision to replace men with women followed the arrest of five male toll staffers earlier this year. Parking fee collection had to be suspended for several weeks following allegations that the staff resorted to extortion and involved passengers in brawls. “The ‘goons’ in the guise of parking fee staff gave a bad name to the airport and the city,” lawyer and activist Subhas Datta, who had a run-in with one of them last year and filed a police complaint, said. Airport officials also blamed drivers’ reluctance to pay the parking fee of Rs 100 for the regular fights but admitted that there were problems. So now, instead of the men, you will find five women — who include both high-school passouts and schoolteachers — at the toll booths, who have taken up the challenge of collecting money from unwilling drivers without losing their cool. It helps that many drivers, too, find it a bit awkward to argue with a woman. “It’s a tough challenge but we will do a good job. I am learning the ropes. Some drivers still pick a fight. I usually keep calm. I call a senior for assistance if the situation appears to be spiralling out of control,” Chandni Shaw (23), a Class XII passout and the sole earning member of her family, said. She used to sell muri and fritters outside the Dum Dum Cantonment railway station and said she found the new job “a more respectable one”. Among the women, who have taken up the job at the airport is Bithika Pal. A former school teacher, she has an MA in Philosophy plus a BEd. “When my husband, who also works at the airport, told me about the job opening, I approached the authorities as it had better timings and a better salary,” Pal, staying a few blocks away from the airport, said. Seated at the next counter is 18-year-old Tiyasha Adhikari. She passed the Higher Secondary examination earlier this year and got the job even before she got admitted to an evening college. “We underwent a five-day training that pirmarily comprised handling of software and toll traffic and then got deployed at the kiosks. It has been a great experience so far,” Adhikari, a resident of Dum Dum Mall Road, said. Achchhelal Yadav, manager of the Kolkata unit of S S Enterprise, the agency appointed to collect parking charges at the airport, said the decision to appoint women instead of men followed the fiasco late last year when five of its staff were arrested. “We need an image makeover. Women are more level-headed and calm and courteous and so we decided to get the kiosks operated by them,” said Yadav. The ploy has worked so far. There have been only a few arguments but none of them has degenerated into a brawl and there has been complaint in the past couple of weeks. Another official of the agency said more women would be recruited to man the counters 24×7 if the current run was a success. Women now work a nine-to-five shift and earn Rs 10,000 a month. The airport authorities, too, have lauded the initiative and said they would extend all support to the agency. “So far they have deployed five women and more are in the process of being hired,” airport director Atul Dikshit said. Most motorists say the new staff are a welcome change. “The earlier collectors were rude. These women are courteous and we appreciate their effort of trying to keep the traffic moving despite being new to this job,” Pradeep Banerjee, a senior central government official who paid Rs 100 for staying back at the airport for 15 minutes, said.
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