Mumbai: First protest called by new auto union leader is a damp squib

The first protest held by Shashank Rao, who has taken over the reins of several unions from his father veteran leader Sharad Rao proved to be a bit of a damp squib; autos were plying normally in the city and only 500 autos turned up for the protest

If his first protest after taking over the reins from veteran leader and union icon Sharad Rao is anything to go by, Shashank Rao is finding his father’s shoes too big to fill — something that should come as good news for the ordinary Mumbaikar.

Addressing the union members, Shashank Rao (circled) said they would be back on the streets to protest within a month unless their demands were met. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Addressing the union members, Shashank Rao (circled) said they would be back on the streets to protest within a month unless their demands were met. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

For, unlike past protests called by his father, a protest called by Shashank who has taken over as president of the various unions headed by Sharad Rao under the aegis of the Mumbai Autorickshaw and Taximen’s Union proved to be a bit of a damp squib yesterday, with most autos running normally across the city.

Only about 500 auto rickshaws and 1,000 drivers turned up outside the Transport Commissioner’s office in Bandra (E) yesterday, and some union members wistfully recalled the times under Sharad Rao, when the city would be crippled as nearly every auto driver responded to his call.

Road blocked
About 500 auto rickshaws were parked on the road going towards the Transport Commissioner’s office in Bandra East, blocking the path for other vehicles. Only a single lane remained open and the traffic police had to monitor the movement of vehicles near Chetna College.

Autos and taxis across Mumbai were plying as usual. In fact, it was business as usual even at Bandra railway station. Outside the commissioner’s office, the drivers and members of some other Rao-led unions began by shouting Sharad Rao’s name. Only when Shashank came out after meeting the transport department officials did they began to chant his name.

‘Didn’t force anyone’
“Yes, it was my first protest, but our grassroots supporters are quite strong and many of our members have turned up. We don’t want people to suffer and so didn’t force anyone to join the protest,” said Shashank Rao, president, Mumbai Autorickshaw and Taximen’s Union. Defending the turnout, some union members also said that the number of people that had showed up had exceeded their expectations.

Demands
While addressing the drivers assembled outside the office, Shashank said that they have asked the state transport department to meet their demands, or else they would be back on the streets to protest within a month’s time.

The union has demanded renewal of 20,000-odd dead permits, issuance of 1 lakh fresh auto permits for Mumbai and removal of app-based cab services like Uber, Meru Plus and Ola that they claim are allegedly plying illegally.

They also want private vehicles to be prevented from eating into their business by illegally picking up passengers and the implementation of the rooftop indicator (which will display whether or not a cab or auto is available to ply) so that cases of refusal come down.

Department speak
“I will look into the various demands made by the union. The Assembly Session is on, so I cannot comment much on this right now,” said State Transport Commissioner Mahesh Zagade.

Sources said that the department is also looking at installing RFID chips and barcodes inside public vehicles to facilitate identification, fitness inspections and other RTO-related activities. They said they are thinking of making these mandatory and could prevent pumps from giving the vehicles CNG until the installation was done, once the plan comes into effect.

Ground denied
The unions wanted to hold the protest at an open ground in Bandra (E), but were denied permission as CM Devendra Fadnavis was slated to address an event there later in the evening. The autos were cleared from the protest site by around 2 pm.

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