Wednesday, November 04, 2009

PUFFING IS THEIR BIRTHRIGHT

PUFFING IS THEIR BIRTHRIGHT
Your auto ride often comes with a free burst of (passive) smoke, as drivers blithely ignore the law against smoking in public places
SAMEER RANJAN BAKSHI & DEBI PRASAD SARANGI


Ever seen the driver of the autorickshaw in which you are travelling lighting up a cigarette or a beedi and puffing away happily? If you are a citizen of Bangalore, you would have had the experience. Our ‘auto rajas’ give a damn about the law that prohibits smoking in public places. Unlike bus drivers or train staff who cannot smoke despite the strongest urge to do, autorickshaw drivers in Bangalore have come to the conclusion that they do not come under the purview of the ban. As a result, autorickshaw users are forced to become passive smokers.
That is what Madhumita, a software engineer and resident of Indiranagar, experienced when she took an autorickshaw to reach her office at Embassy Golf Link, off Challaghatta Road, after she missed her office cab.
After five minutes, the autodriver lit up a cigarette. Seeing this, Madhumita moved towards the edge of the seat, hoping to avoid the smoke. But that didn’t happen and she had to request the driver to stub the cigarette. She said, “I recalled the smoking ban order issued by the government and told him about it. But he was indifferent. When I repeatedly asked him to stop smoking, he replied that it was his auto and not public property. We had a heated argument, but he didn’t stop smoking and finally I got out of the auto. I took a different auto from there and reached my office. I wonder how these autorickshaws are not considered as public places and why the police don’t penalise them.” There are over 90,000 autorickshaws in the city and there is no rule saying that they shouldn’t smoke while driving. Rajiv Gandhi Auto Chalakara Union general secretary Chandrasekhar said: “At least 60 per cent of the autodrivers either smoke or chew tobacco. Neither the RTO nor the police have told us anything regarding the ban that came into effect last year. In fact, we are aware of the ban on smoking in public places, but to what extent it covers autorickshaws remains unanswered. As a matter of public interest, we put some ‘no smoking posters’ on some of our autorickshaws. But there are also some drivers who don’t allow passengers to smoke inside their vehicles.”
However, the most important concern is that both the traffic and law and order police have no idea how to deal with such situations. “We see autorickshaw drivers smoking even while ferrying female passengers, but we have not given serious thought to the problem. Moreover, we get complaints regarding auto drivers misbehaving with commuters, but have not received any complaints about smoking while driving,” said a police officer.
A DISTRACTION TOO
While the Delhi high court issued a directive in 2007 asking the Delhi government to ban smoking while driving, there are no such precedents in Karnataka.Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic and Security), Praveen Sood said, “Obviously smoking can cause distraction while driving because the driver doesn’t use both his hands.”

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