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August 15: Auto drivers to be awarded; August 22: They go on strike again

This Independence Day, RTO officers are gearing up to reward and felicitate auto rickshaw drivers for stray acts of kindness towards their passengers. And, as if on cue, auto rickshaw drivers under Sharad Rao’s union have decided to go on strike on August 22-25 -- just a week after the felicitation.


File pic

The awards will be doled out by officials from Andheri (W) RTO, which oversees areas between Bandra and Dahisar, to auto drivers for their courteous behaviour. The authorities have justified their generosity by claiming that the awards will be a shot in the arm for auto drivers, motivating them and encouraging them to improve their services.


Money for nothing? According to citizens, the RTO should have conducted a survey and taken the public’s opinion into account before rewarding auto drivers. File Pic

Officials said that they had shortlisted around 25 drivers after posting information in newspapers and inside the RTO premises. The advertisements asked for names of drivers felt that they had been courteous in their dealings with passengers. “Drivers who give good and honest service to people need to be recognized and appreciated. We had asked the auto drivers to come forward with necessary documents and references to back their claims,” said B Kalaskar, deputy RTO, Andheri.

Fifty drivers responded to the call, sending in tales of their acts of kindness. Of them, 25 qualified, as they could provide documents in proof of their claims. “We want to boost the morale of these drivers,” said another RTO official.

Officials claim that they have crosschecked with police stations in instances where valuables were returned to passengers who had left them behind in the autos. They also rooted out newspaper clippings and other certificates or references provided by auto drivers in support of their claims.

Who chooses?
While the existence of a ‘kind and courteous’ driver will itself be questioned by commuters who often face brazen refusals, the method of selection is also shocking. The mantle of ‘honest driver’ or ‘courteous driver’ will not be bestowed by commuters who have been made wise by years of experience. Instead, auto drivers themselves have been asked to brag about their acts of kindness and nominate themselves for the awards.

Transport experts and MiD DAY readers have questioned the selection process used by the RTO to determine their awardees. “This is similar to asking students to check their own answer scripts. The RTO should rather conduct a survey and take the public opinion into account. The kind of input that is being used cannot determine if an auto driver is honest and courteous. Several factors should be taken into consideration,” said AV Shenoy, member, Mumbai Vikas Samiti.

Rishi Aggarwal, member of the Mumbai Transport Forum, said, “There could have a separate category of award for those who would have done good deeds like returning bags forgotten inside rickshaws. The selection of the best auto driver should take into account factors like fare refusals, unnecessary honking, lane cutting and signal breaching; auto drivers should also be rated on the basis of the degree to which they follow these rules.”

Protest
Meanwhile, auto union leader Sharad Rao has threatened to stage a statewide protest across Maharashtra from August 22-24, so that 21 different demands are fulfilled. “The protest will start from night of August 21 and no rickshaw will ply on road. We can uproot any government and political outfit if they don’t accede to our demands,” said Sharad Rao, addressing 100-odd drivers affiliated to his union in Bandra (E). In his address, Rao said that the strike would be timed to perfection, as the season of festivals would begin soon afterwards and continue till November. This will be followed by the elections, and their issues and demands would be lost in the melee. Union leaders have asked auto drivers to ensure that they keep their rickshaws off the road on these three days, and tell every passenger that they are on strike. Sharad Rao exhorted his men to oppose all who tried to prevent them from protesting, even if it means that they go to jail in the process.

“He is a member of the NCP and wants to illustrate that the apathy of the government and Chief Minister Chavan. However, the fact is that the government is already acting upon their demands,” said auto union leader Hussain Dalwai, who chooses not to participate in the strike. Auto leader Thampy Kurien has also decided that he wont be party to the protest.

(Inputs by Nigel Buthello)

The awardees will be selected on the basis of the following factors
>> Honesty and integrity towards passengers,
>> Social work for community
>> Educating their children and empowering families

Demands
1. One lakh new permits should be issued and 34,000 dead permits should be renewed, which should only be given to auto rickshaw drivers with badges, across the state

2. The fine that is levied on auto rickshaw drivers whose fitness permits have expired must be cancelled

3. The number of years of experience required for an auto rickshaw driver to get a badge must be brought down from six to three years

4. Authorities must revoke the rule that makes electric meters compulsory in auto rickshaws.

5. Share-a taxi schemes should not be allowed in places where there are 6-seater taxis.

6. More CNG-refilling centres in Pimpri and Chinchwad

7.. Auto rickshaw drivers and owners across the state should be treated as ‘public servants’.

Award to drivers
>> Cash prize of Rs 2,000 to each of the drivers
>> Medical care package to the drivers and their families
>> Insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh for a period of two years to each of the awardees
>> Household provisions
>> Certificate or medal for honesty

Voices
Pradeep Kumar Chandan (35), Has been riding an auto rickshaw for 15 years
The current problem we are facing is regarding the permits and the government rule that threatens to take autos older than 16 years off the streets. Those who do not have their own vehicle and ride autos on hire have to bear costs of fuel, permits, and other various repairs. After all this, what do we earn and take home? It becomes practically impossible for us to get through the month.

Panchram Bin, Has been riding an auto rickshaw for six years
So far, I have not received my badge, without which we are caught by the police, who fine us a hefty sum. According to the rules, a badge will only be given to those who have been riding a rickshaw for six years or more. This is not right, as we receive a licence only once we have acquired enough training and experience to ride a rickshaw. This is what we are protesting against, along with the increase in price of the permits.

Haji Mohd Yusuf, Has been riding an auto rickshaw in Chembur for six years
Many other auto rickshaw drivers, including me, do not have our own rickshaws and have to drive rickshaws on hire. But we have to bear costs of fuel, as well as the permits. How are we supposed to continue to bear these expenses if the cost of permits goes up again? The government should keep such things in mind, and only then hike prices.  

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