Lindsay Pereira: More auto rickshaws, less safety

Driving an auto rickshaw could be the go-to job for those who don’t believe in education or following safety rules

Here’s a bit of exciting news to cheer up harried commuters across Bombay. The state transport department — possibly one of the wisest departments among the many other departments that work together to make Maharashtra one of the world’s most efficient states in the history of human civilisation — has tweaked the rules for those interested in driving a rickshaw.

Raising an army of autos: Naturally, the safety of the public in question must take a backseat to the increase in number of rickshaws, because that statistic can then be printed in bold letters on illegal posters a few weeks before the next state elections. File pic for representation
Raising an army of autos: Naturally, the safety of the public in question must take a backseat to the increase in number of rickshaws, because that statistic can then be printed in bold letters on illegal posters a few weeks before the next state elections. File pic for representation

This will obviously come as a surprise to most of us who assumed rickshaw drivers didn’t have to follow rules of any kind, but they obviously exist on a piece of paper somewhere, so it must be true. Apparently, the earlier rule that insisted on one having a minimum of a year’s experience as a driver before applying for a licence has been removed. People with absolutely no driving experience are now eligible to ferry you and me around, just so the number of rickshaws in the city can increase.

To put this into perspective, I can wake up tomorrow morning with a hankering to become a rickshaw driver, without ever having sat behind the steering handle of one, and get a licence that will allow me to buy a rickshaw and then overcharge you for ferrying you around. And you can do the same thing too, if you’re a mean-spirited person bored with your current job that requires you to stick to boring rules.

There’s another change that has been made to an existing rule. Now, rickshaw drivers don’t really need to be educated either. Earlier, they needed to have cleared Std X, presumably because studying everything other than driving for ten years would make them all efficient drivers. Now, however, studying up to Std VIII will be sufficient. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, to be honest, when one considers the fact that even the ministers responsible for education in Maharashtra, as well as the entire country, have both had their own educational qualifications repeatedly questioned. If vast numbers of our ministers can only aspire to clear Std VIII with a bit of cheating, it may be unfair to force poor rickshaw drivers to go to school before they can start driving us around.

Let’s compare these admittedly laid-back rules with those of another major city, like London. If you wish to become a licenced taxi driver there, every applicant is the subject of a criminal record check before being issued with the required licence. Every applicant is also required to have a medical report form completed by the doctor who has held their medical records for the previous 12 months. Epilepsy, poor vision, a history of alcohol abuse, heart problems or neurological disorders are among a few things that can prevent you from holding a licence. Most importantly, you must have a thorough knowledge of that city, including the location of streets, clubs, hospitals, hotels, theatres, government and public buildings, railway stations, police stations, courts, diplomatic buildings, important places of worship, cemeteries, parks, leisure centres, places of learning, restaurants and historic buildings — everything you need to know to be able to take passengers to their destinations by the most direct routes. All of which, one assumes, requires that you know how to read.

Maharashtra, on the other hand, will hand over your licence with no questions asked even if you are a former convict who suffers from heart palpitations at every traffic light and can’t tell Pali Naka from Saki Naka, provided you have studied for eight years somewhere and feel like you ought to be a rickshaw driver because there’s nothing much else for you to do.

These new rules are all part of a bid to improve public transport in our city, apparently. Naturally, the safety of the public in question must take a backseat to the increase in number of rickshaws, because that statistic can then be printed in bold letters on illegal posters a few weeks before the next state elections.

Meanwhile, our existing rickshaw drivers can continue to break every traffic rule in the book, refuse to ply depending on the mood they’re in, behave in as uncouth a manner as possible, cheat passengers at will, and run illegal shared services across the city (opposite Andheri station on the West, for instance, next to the RTO booth). None of that will change, because there are no new rules about what they currently do.

Interestingly, these measures have been introduced during what the government refers to as Road Safety Fortnight. I’m almost surprised our Chief Minister didn’t invite Salman Khan to inaugurate it.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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