While the electronic meter may have brought some relief to commuters, who had been complaining about being overcharged by auto and taxi drivers, recalibration of these meters as per latest fare has given rise to a new form of corruption.
As the Regional Transport Office (RTO) had set November 24 as the deadline for recalibration, auto and taxi drivers unions claimed that illegal agents at RTO offices in Tardeo, Wadala and Andheri seized the opportunity to mint money, and were hand in glove with the officials.
The unions claimed that these agents were charging anywhere between Rs 120 and Rs 150 per driver to ensure that a meter is deemed fit and given clearance for recalibration.
They said shares were fixed. While the agent would take Rs 50, the mechanic recalibrating the meter was paid Rs 20 and the RTO officials pocketed the remaining amount.
Sources said a scuffle had taken place between members of an auto rickshaw union and illegal agents behind Inorbit Mall in Malad (W) on Thursday.
Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary of Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union, said, “We received several complaints about these illegal agents, who were taking bribes from our drivers. We have told the RTOs time-and-again, but they refuted our claims.”
Even top brass from taxi unions claimed to have received myriad complaints from their members about these agents.
A L Quadros, general secretary of Mumbai Taximen’s Union, said, “These agents are taking undue advantage of the fast-approaching deadline and the authorities are turning a blind eye.”
Some of the RTO officials said they were aware of this malfeasance and claimed that it was an age-old practice observed by the drivers to secure fitness certificates for their meters.
An official, requesting anonymity, said, “These agents are meter mechanics, who take Rs 20 or so from the drivers. But we will have to verify drivers’ claims about being charged Rs 120 and above.”
A few officials rubbished the allegations that there was a nexus between the RTO representatives and the touts. Instead, they blamed the unions for the malpractice.
“These agents are a part of auto or taxi unions, who charge money for doing work. It is a false claim that money is given to RTO authorities,” said an official. When the correspondent visited one of the RTOs, he discovered that an agent was collecting money from drivers that had come for meter recalibration.
One of the drivers said they had no choice but to pay these agents or else they would have to spend more time waiting for their turn, which according to him would take a toll on their daily earnings.