CM says firm no to auto union demands

Coming down on Sharad Rao-led auto union, CM Prithviraj Chavan refused its demands, mandated electronic meters, deferred 50 paisa fare hike, said drivers shouldn't refuse fare

Adopting a stern stand against the whimsical approach of rickshaw drivers towards plying passengers, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced a series of measures to rein in their chaotic strikes and mood-dictated fares yesterday.

While refusing to yield to many of the auto union's demands, Chavan mandated the use of electronic meters --known to be less prone to tampering -- in rickshaws across the state. He also said that the 50-paisa hike in auto fares would be subject to an informed decision by a specially-appointed committee, before being implemented. The deferment comes also because the transport department has asked for time to print tariff cards and complete other formalities.

The announcements, which hope to palliate the woes of Mumbaikars sick of arbitrary strikes and the ensuing disruption of services, were made after Chavan, in charge of the transport portfolio, called a meeting with transport officials and auto rickshaw unions to sort out the issues at Sahyadri guesthouse on Sunday.

"Finally, commuter is king," said Chavan. "Rickshaw drivers should avoid refusing fares, and behave properly with passengers." Further, he downright refused to bow to the demand of an annual fare hike. "Hiking fares could be thought about once every two years, depending on the actual need and situation," he said.

Chavan's statements punctured the ego and many of the demands of Sharad Rao-led Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen's Union, which was recently the target of RTO crackdown and condemnation by harassed commuters. They come after Rao had called for an indefinite protest from November 9, if the state government failed to fulfill rickshaw drivers' demands.

Said Shashank Rao, Sharad's son and member of the union, said, "The government has taken cognisance of our demands. We will conduct a meeting with the transport department on October 14, after which we would be in a position to talk about on further protests."

Enough strikes: RTO
For their part, RTO officials have said that they wouldn't hesitate from taking strict action against unions if they threaten to protest again. "The refusal to ply by drivers will not be tolerated any more. Now that they have directly had a word with the CM and discussed their issues, they should stop complaining," said a senior RTO official on condition of anonymity.

Chavan appealed to the transport department to look into the issue of 'dead' rickshaw permits in the state and the city. There are nearly 48,000 rickshaws across the state whose permits haven't been renewed for many years. Of these, 28,000 are in the city and the metropolitan region.

Some respite
Furthermore, a provision would be made in labour laws wherein the state government would try to include auto drivers within the unorganised sector. This means that all benefits under the law for the unorganised sector would accrue to auto wallas, though no pension and gratuity would be given directly.

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