Autos to stay off the roads

Commuters in the city could find it difficult to spot auto rickshaws on the roads for a few hours on September 3, 5 and 11, as the unions are set for a ‘show of strength’ and have threatened to stage a dharna of sorts.

Auto rickshaw drivers from Mumbai Rickshawmen's Union protesting
Nothing new: Auto rickshaw drivers from Mumbai Rickshawmen’s Union protesting outside the office of state transport commissioner at Bandra to demand a fare hike earlier this year. File pic

While the dates and timings for the auto rickshaw unions’ dharna has been confirmed, the taxi union has not yet confirmed the days on which they will stay off the roads.

New strategies
Besides the taxi and auto rickshaw unions protesting for a fare hike and demanding that the state government announce the Hakim Committee report at the earliest, the auto rickshaw union this time is also striking because potholes and bad roads are increasing the maintenance cost on auto rickshaws, and they intend to take the issue up with the BMC.

According to sources in the RTO, the unions this time are calling their strike a dharna to avoid prosecution under the newly amended Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act.

The dharna threats came from Sharad Rao, who heads both auto rickshaw unions in the city and AL Quadros, who heads the biggest taxi union. Interestingly, both union leaders have been at loggerheads for over four decades.

Suburban woes
Rao stated that auto rickshaws would not operate on the Dahisar-Bandra stretch in the western suburbs between 10 am and 2 pm on September 3.

He added that during this period, they would approach the various ward offices of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

“Maintenance cost of auto rickshaws has increased by 30 per cent because of damage sustained due to potholes and bad roads. So we will be protesting against the BMC by going to local ward offices during this period,” Rao said.

The auto union claims that the dharna is voluntary; though union members claim that auto drivers usually keep off the roads on such days fearing violence.

On September 5, auto rickshaws will not be operating in the eastern suburbs between 10 am and 2 pm. “On both days we will be asking auto drivers to refrain from crossing over from east to west and vice-versa,” Rao said.

On September 11, autos rickshaw drivers will be staging a dharna between 11 am and 4 pm to oppose the state government’s delay in announcing the Hakim Committee report.

Taxis to follow suit
“We will decide the dates for our dharna in September to protest the delay in the Hakim Committee report,” said AL Quadros, general secretary, Mumbai Taximen’s Union.

Both the unions are demanding a hike in tariff structure, which shall be determined by the Hakim Committee report that has been submitted to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who also holds the transport department portfolio. Officials from the transport department claim that even they haven’t seen the 150-page report.

Balancing act
The government seems unconcerned with the tactics being employed by these unions as it can prosecute them for going on strike under the newly amended Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act. “The High Court has permitted legal action against these unions if they go on strike and so they are calling it dharna. At the same time, if they refuse to ferry commuters, they can be booked if cases are filed against them,” said a senior RTO official. 

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