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Mumbai's touts, dealers make hay as drivers queue up to recalibrate meters

Auto, taxi drivers who lined up to get their meters aligned to the new fare had to pay Rs 200 more to the dealers; agents extracted around R200 more for the ‘privilege’ of jumping the queue during testing

They might have rejoiced at getting a fare hike, but auto rickshaw and taxi drivers are battling to get their meters recalibrated to the new fare system, without having to shell out money to illegal touts. RTO (Regional Transport Office) officials, too, are party to this corruption.

Auto drivers lined up at testing tracks from 7 am to get meters recalibrated and passed. Those who didn’t pay the bribes had to wait till the end of the day, or go back empty-handed. Pic/Kaushik Thanekar
Auto drivers lined up at testing tracks from 7 am to get meters recalibrated and passed. Those who didn’t pay the bribes had to wait till the end of the day, or go back empty-handed. Pic/Kaushik Thanekar

After initial hiccups in the first couple of days since recalibration began on August 17, there were scores of auto rickshaws and taxis that lined up across various test tracks in Mumbai since 7 am, in serpentine queues stretching into kilometres. Their first mission was to get their e-meter reset. In this, the chip inside has to be replaced with the one calibrated with the new fares.

A tout (in blue t-shirt) is seen ‘assisting’ an RTO official in the recalibration process
A tout (in blue t-shirt) is seen ‘assisting’ an RTO official in the recalibration process

Dealers who were fitting these chips extracted their pound of flesh by overcharging for the service the Transport department-approved rate is Rs 500, but dealers were asking for Rs 200-300 more for every e-meter. Justifying themselves, dealers said they didn’t earn any profits from the government-approved charges.

Drivers initially were forced to fork out the amount, but later, when unions applied pressure, RTOs made it clear that drivers wouldn’t pay a rupee more than the stipulated amount. Union leaders went to shops and garages and threatened to stall the process if overcharging was observed.

“We also approached the RTOs and gave it to them in writing,” said a union leader on condition of anonymity. mid-day spoke to a few drivers, who admitted to having been victims to this practice. Putting dealers in place was just a small win. The bigger battle was to fight corruption at the RTO.

After e-metres are aligned to the new fare and tested at government-certified institutes where testing facilities are available, the vehicles had to go for on-road testing at testing tracks. Here, touts were assisting RTO officials and were part of the entire official procedure, making a mockery of the system.

With the long lines of autos and taxis, agents began approaching drivers to pay them to ‘get their work done’. For Rs 150-200, one could jump the queue. On Wednesday, all vehicles with licence plate ending in ‘0’ had been waiting since 7 am for testing at the Andheri-Lokhandwala testing track.

“We were told the testing and passing of our e-meters would be done in queue. However, these touts influenced the procedure, and forms and papers of only those who agreed to pay were given to RTO officers,” said a furious driver who claimed he refused to pay a bribe.

For those who came late, the charge went up to R300, revealed an auto union leader. Those who chose to defy the corruption had to wait till the end of the day or were told to come back the next day, as office hours were over. The agents not only ferried papers, but also accompanied officials for inspecting the e-meters.

During inspection, the vehicles go on a minimum ride of 2 km; an RTO official is present at the start and the end point to check if the meter is functioning properly. Agents were seen standing next to the officials; sometimes, people who didn’t look like RTO officers were seen in the back of the vehicles.

The RTO official on the other end of the line has to monitor every vehicle, but hardly did this happen. A few agents were seen tightening wires behind the e-meter, which is one of the parameters to ensure the meter is sealed. These blatant violations happened in front of officials’ eyes.

The other side
Shailesh Sharma, state transport secretary, said: “I have called a meeting with various heads in the department to discuss this issue.” K Golani, RTO chief (Mumbai Central), said: “We have categorically instructed unions to ask their members not to approach the touts.

These touts use our name and charge them. Our staffers have been asked to display ID cards.” S Bhalerao, chief of Andheri RTO, said: “We, too, have received complaints about these touts. The drivers should come together and refuse to pay them.”

Unions protest
Taxi unions have written to RTO offices, complaining about touts who extort money from poor drivers while motor vehicle inspectors remain silent spectators. “The touts are a major menace in carrying out the process properly,”alleged A L Quadros, General Secretary, Mumbai Taximen’s Union.

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