Arrogant auto drivers want you to pay for their pension

Some of the fresh demands placed before the government by the protesting auto drivers include 'government employee' status, pension, gratuity, health insurance, permission to ply in the city proper, and a minimum assured wage of Rs 25,000/pm

After throwing 'tamper' tantrums and sulking in the wake of RTO crackdowns against meter tampering, demands made by the auto unions in the city are reaching dizzying new heights of absurdity. Holding pockets of the city ransom to a strike yet again yesterday, the auto drivers, who are fast emerging as the most dogged breed of extortionists in the city, have raised eyebrows and sent eyeballs rolling with their new draft of demands: they now want to ply their rickshaws on a shared basis at all times; they wish to be recognised as servants of the government who are eligible for pension and gratuity; they want authorities to assure them a minimum mandatory income of Rs 25,000 per month. Moreover, they demand annual fare revisions (read hikes) every January, as well as free rein over the length and breadth of the city.

Get off or else... A union member stops one of the rickshaws that
continued to ply despite the strike. They forced the passengers to get
off the rickshaw and fend for themselves. pic/sayed sameer abedi

If this is making you rethink your career choice and wonder if it's time to switch to auto driving, you're not alone. With perks like these, and the easy option of taking unannounced holidays in the form of flash strikes, it could well become the most convenient and lucrative profession. Throw free transport in the bargain, and you have your dream job!

Road closed: Autorickshaw drivers at a rally at the Transport
Commissioner's office at Bandra, yesterday. The union leader has
threatened an indefinite strike if the government doesn't meet their
demands by November 9.

"We will begin an indefinite strike if the government doesn't meet our demands by November 9," threatened Sharad Rao, president of Mumbai Auto Rickshaw Men's Union.

The union leaders also want to give a wide berth to their meters, and have expressed resistance to the idea of converting to tamper proof electronic meters. But what takes the cake is their demand to be granted the status of 'government servants' who have access to privileges that elude most of the city's millions: pension, gratuity, education subsidy for wards, and government sponsored medical insurance. This would mean that in addition to the arbitrary and exorbitant fares that they exact from you each time you request (read plead) for a ride, they also expect to have their coffers filled with money that you eke out of your savings as tax every year.

While another onslaught of non-cooperation from the rogue autowallas crippled the western and eastern suburbs yesterday, leaving harried auto commuters in its wake, representatives from auto unions across the city were busy placing their demands before the state transport department, which is headed by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Officials at the transport department as well as regional transport offices (RTOs) across the city are, predictably, full of impotent fury. "If all rickshaws are made to run on shared basis, then their whole purpose would be defeated. How will senior citizens, women and children make it to their destinations after being dropped off at stops? asked an irate RTO official. 

 "They have submitted their charter of demands. We will examine them and hold a meeting on October 14," said Transport Commissioner V More.

In the latter half of September, RTOs across Mumbai, Panvel and Thane checked over 5,500 autos, nabbing over 1,500 of their drivers for meter tampering and fare refusal. In the process of these crackdowns, a whopping sum of Rs 6.15 lakh was collected in the form of fines. Auto drivers retaliated with a brazen two-day strike that brought the suburbs to a standstill.

Rs 25,000
The amount the auto drivers want as minimum wages earned per month

Commuters speak
I am fed up with the excuses churned out by rickshaw drivers every day. Every Monday they seem to concoct fresh reasons to stay off the roads. I had to take a crowded bus to Malad for work. It is outrageous that some of the rickshaw drivers beat up commuters.
- Desiree Pesso, Travel agent

The auto drivers don't even ply satisfactorily in the suburbs. Now they expect to be given permission to enter the city and harass residents there as well. What new demands will they think up if they are given the status of government servants? They will become lazier if they are assured a wage and pension.
- Poorva Deshpande, Andheri resident

I wanted to go to the hospital for a check up, but could not find a rickshaw. Even if they agree to ferry passengers, they ask for steep fares. Their rates were just hiked recently, why are they demanding more money. They have become exceedingly greedy.
- Sukhdev Singh, Ghatkopar resident

 I am tired of the rickshaw drivers and their endless slew of demands. I think giving auto drivers access to the city would lead to great chaos and add to our woes.
- Shailesh Wagh, Versova

I can't see the point of all these elaborate provisions. Guaranteeing them pensions would make them even more brazen, unruly and corrupt. I will not be surprised if the minimum rate becomes Rs 100 soon.
- Shrikant Jade, Mulund resident

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