The city has a love-hate relationship with the rains, and yesterday the love came to the fore. With the rain gods playing spoilsport, the dharna called by the Sharad Rao-led auto union saw a low turnout of rickshaws that participated in the rally, much to the relief of commuters in Western Suburbs.
Only 450 auto rickshaws were seen, when they reached the Andheri RTO. However, union leaders asserted that there were nearly 8,000 auto drivers and 2,500 rickshaws that participated in the rally.
The dharna that was scheduled to start at 10 am from Inorbit mall, Malad (W), started over an hour late after Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar telephoned Sharad Rao and other leaders of Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union.
During this hour, heavy rains had already started lashing the suburbs, which was as a hindrance for drivers, resulting in fewer numbers. “It was raining heavily, hence at least five to six drivers sat inside each auto. So the numbers seemed less,” said Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary, Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union.
Further, as claimed by the union that very few autos were plying on the road, many auto drivers themselves were unaware of the dharna. Even at Goregaon (W), where this union has a huge office, auto drivers were unaware of the protest. “This is my fourth passenger. I didn’t even know that a dharna was planned,” said an auto driver, who was halted close to the union’s office.
Protesters plan to go to Vanrai police station at Goregaon (E) also did not materialise, as Ajit Pawar asked Mumbai Police Commissioner Dr Satyapal Singh to meet Sharad Rao. Later, the participating auto drivers waving red flags took to the Western Express Highway (WEH), proceeding towards Andheri.
Sources at Andheri RTO stated that union members had fixed an appointment at 1 pm with them, but they failed to make it on time. Finally, they reached Andheri RTO at 2.15 pm, and before entering the premises, some leaders made speeches, hoping to keep the wet and exhausted crowd enthralled. Many of the drivers were seen huddling in groups to escape the pouring rains.
After a meeting of 1 hour and 15 minutes, few members from the union came out. “We informed officials that corruption is rampant at the RTO. Unless, an illegal agent doesn’t process a driver’s licence for renewal or passing of vehicle, the RTO staff takes more than 3 months to do the same. They also charge around Rs 1,000-1,200 for processing it, part of it which goes to the agent,” added Shashank Rao.
RTO officers, however, claimed that these problems persisted due to shortage of clerical staff who process driving licences and passing of vehicles. According to latest figures, there is vacancy for 38 junior clerks and 2 senior clerks, while there is a requirement to fill 94 posts at Andheri RTO.
“We have taken note of their problems. From September 15, we will be having regular meeting with the unions once every two months to address their issues,” said A Balchandra, RTO (western Mumbai).
Later, Sharad Rao also met BMC commissioner Sitaram Kunte to discuss the problem faced by the drivers due to potholed and bad roads. The auto union will be carrying out a similar protest in the eastern suburbs tomorrow.