The owners of around 3,000 pool cars that would ferry children to school in Calcutta and its adjoining areas have urged the government to use their vehicles as ambulances so the drivers and other workers can find means to survive.
In a letter to transport minister Firhad Hakim, the Pool Car Owners’ Welfare Association has written: “Due to the pandemic all schools have been shut since March 2020. It has directly affected our business. We have had no source of income since then. This is to request you to look into the matter as early as possible and arrange for an alternative source of income for us.”
Pool cars play a key role in ferrying a large number of children to school and back home in Calcutta and its adjoining areas in North and South 24-Parganas and Howrah. The 3,000-odd pool car operators were involved in ferrying around 60,000 schoolchildren every day.
To qualify as a pool car, an operator needs to collect a “pool car permit” from the transport department after meeting certain specifications and pay Rs 14,000 to Rs 15,000 for a five-year permit.
“Our income has stopped and our bank balances are almost gone. Over 50 vehicles have been taken away because the owners couldn’t pay their EMIs. How do we survive?” asked Sudip Dutta, the secretary of the association. “If the vehicles are utilised as ambulances a few of the families would be able to meet their basic expenses.”
Last October, the pool car operators had requested guardians to pay 50 per cent of the fees so that they could stay afloat. Hardly anyone responded. “Some of the drivers have started selling vegetables. The vehicles are rotting,” said Moloy Kanti Guha, a pool car owner in Tollygunge. “We don’t have funds for maintenance.”
Last August, the state government had waived taxes on commercial vehicles till this June. Even the annual permit fee was waived bringing a relief of around Rs 5,000 for every vehicle.
The pool car owners have also requested Hakim to extend the waiver beyond June.