New Delhi: In a copntroversial move, the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra has decided that auto rickshaw permits in future will be issued to only those who can speak Marathi language.
Transport Minister Diwakar Raote, a Shiv Sena member in Devendra Fadnavis Ministry, today said the government had decided to issue quite a large number of autorickshaw permits and the only conditions for applicants is that they should speak Marathi and should be residents of respecive localities for 15 years.
"After November 1, permit for new auto rickshaw will be given only to those applicants who can speak Marathi," said Maharashtra Transport Minister Diwakar Raote.
Opposition Congress and NCP were quick to slam the decision accusing Sena and BJP of whipping up the sons-of-the-soil sentiment for making gains in Mumbai civic polls due in early 2017.
"As a Diwali gift to the people, the government will issue 1 lakh fresh auto permits in the Mumbai Metropolitan
Region (which includes parts of adjoining districts) and 25 per cent of the existing number of autos in other parts of the State," Raote told reporters.
"In 1997, the then government had stopped issuing fresh auto permits. But in the last 15 years, the population of the state has increased rapidly and we think at least one lakh fresh permits need to be issued in MMR region alone," he said.
"The only conditions the applicant must be able to fulfil are - he should speak Marathi and be a resident of (respective) locality for at least 15 years," he added.
The Minister made it clear those who do not fulfil these two conditions would not be issued permits.
Criticising the Marathi string attached to decision, Congress and NCP leaders said BJP and Shiv Sena were once again raking up `Marathi Manoos' (sons of the soil) issue in view of coming Mumbai civic elections (slated in early 2017).
Congress said the maximum a government can do is to ensure an autodriver knows the topography of the city. "Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where people of all faiths and other states stay. In such an environment, there cannot be any discrimination in the name of language. The government can ensure a driver knows the topography of the city but cannot discriminate," Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said.
NCP leader Sachin Ahir said the decision makes it seem that those running the government are "extremists". "They are simply raking up Marathi manoos issue ahead of Mumbai civic body elections. When I was Transport Minister, we only expected people to know various languages, including Marathi, but never imposed rules on them. It seems this government is being run by extremists," he said.
The Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union had some months back demanded issuance of one lakh new auto rickshaw permits for the city. “We want the state government to release at least one lakh new permits in Mumbai,” Shashank Rao, the union’s leader, had said in March 2015.
Union members alleged that there has been a negligible increase in the number of autos across the city due to non-issuance of new permits and non-renewal of the expired ones. They claimed that about 20,000 dead permits could be renewed.
'Check illegal autos'
Besides demanding new permits, the union also raked up the issue of 30,000-odd illegal autos operating in the Eastern and Western suburbs.
Sources from the Transport department claimed these unauthorised autos generally ply short distances, mostly from railway stations to nearby residential colonies or business centres. The union even complained against operators of private jeeps, cars and buses, mostly hired by call centres, of poaching passengers from the Eastern and Western Express Highways.
These vehicles, union members said, charge anywhere between Rs 10 and Rs 20 , depending on distance and usually operate from Dahisar, Borivli, Goregaon, Andheri, Bandra, Powai, Vikhroli and other areas where offices are located.
“The government is not taking adequate action against these vehicles operating illegally,” Rao said. To drive their points home, the union has planned a morcha outside the Transport department’s office in Bandra on April 7.
Interestingly, a large number of post-graduates had applied for autorickshaw permits in last year. Out of 1.75 lakh applications received, a good 4,500 of them were post-graduates and graduates.
(With inputs from reporters)