TODDLER LANDED ON HIS BACK AND SHOES CAME OFF: WITNESS
Baranagar: A toddler leaning against his mother as she sat in the back of an auto tragically died on Tuesday after being thrown off the vehicle when the driver braked hard on a stretch of road made slippery by rain.
Rajdeep Sardar, barely 18 months old, did not seem to have any external injury after falling to the left of the auto at Vivek More in the Baranagar neighbourhood of north Calcutta on Tuesday morning. He was conscious when taken to the nearby Baranagar State General Hospital but died within 10 minutes of reaching there, his family said.
Doctors said Rajdeep died of internal injuries to the back of the head and neck.
“The auto driver braked all of a sudden and the boy fell out. He possibly lost his grip on the rod in front of him. He had a packet of potato chips in one hand,” recounted Anjan Pal, who was in front of a shop when the accident happened.
“Everthing happened in a flash. The child landed on his back and his shoes came off. We picked him up, arranged a vehicle and took him to the hospital,” Pal, who is the councillor of Ward 17 of Baranagar Municipality, said.
The tragedy occurred around 11.40am when auto driver Bhola Dutta was allegedly speeding down a bend on Aukhoy Mukherjee Road, which links Tobin Road with Noapara Metro station.
Rajdeep and his mother Rinki were returning from the market at Bangasree to their home at Doctorpara, near Noapara Metro station. The boy’s father, Raja, was then at work in a construction site.
“The driver braked and Golu (Rajdeep’s pet name) was thrown off the auto before I could grab him. I screamed at the driver to stop but the auto gathered speed again. When he finally stopped, I jumped out and ran to my child. The auto sped away with my bag still on the seat,” Rinki said.
As news of the incident spead, a crowd gathered to protest rash driving by auto drivers in that area. Autos stopped plying on the Tobin Road-Noapara route post-noon, fearing a confrontation as tempers soared along with a wave of sympathy for the child’s family.
“This stretch is no different from any other route in Calcutta that autos dominate. Almost all drivers tend to race each other,” said Saurav Chatterjee, a resident of the area.
In his complaint to the police, Rajdeep’s father has mentioned that his son had a fatal fall from the auto because of sudden braking at speed. Police have started a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code), theft (Section 379) and rash and negligent driving (Section 279) against the driver.
Driver Bhola, who couldn’t be traced for several hours after the accident, walked into Baranagar police station along with members of the auto drivers’ union around 6pm and surrendered.
A member of the local Trinamul-affiliated union said around 62 autos ply on the Tobin Road-Noapara route, with half the number slotted for the first shift starting 6am. The eight-hour shift ends at 2pm, when another set of autos take over on the nearly 2km stretch that is the preferred route for commuters taking the Metro from Noapara.
Sandip Dey, the secretary of the drivers’ union, said it was unfair to blame every accident on rash driving. “Our members are well-behaved. Nobody on this route drives an auto in shorts or chews gutkha while driving.”
Saumitra Pakrashi, who commutes regularly by auto to Noapara and back, said the average speed of most three-wheelers was a threat to public safety. “In competing with buses on the same route, most auto drivers tend to speed. They are reckless. I travel in fear every day but don’t have a choice,” he said.
The condition of Aukhoy Mukherjee Road doesn’t inspire confidence either. The public works department, which maintains the road, said the stretch where little Rajdeep was killed had got a layer of mastic asphalt barely seven months ago. A water-supply project of Baranagar Municipality required portions of the road to be dug up again. These stretches remain a danger to life and limb.
Since there is no footpath on either side, pedestrians are also unsafe. Building materials stacked by the roadside and encroachment by stalls add to the chaos.