Mumbai’s second lifeline — its taxis and autos — were once the gold standard of honesty. But a new mid-day drive, where we ‘forgot’ a packet of imitation jewellery in a taxi or an auto, finds that six out of seven drivers made no effort to return the goods
Ever forgotten your bag or valuables in an auto or a taxi but got it back due to the efforts of an honest driver? Well, then you must be among the lucky few. Most Mumbaikars tend to think of autorickshaw and taxi drivers as crooks who, given a chance, will gladly take an unwitting passenger for a ride. And they are not entirely wrong. mid-day carried out a small experiment to investigate how upright the city’s auto drivers and cabbies are, and shockingly, nearly all failed to pass our honesty test.
This piece of imitation jewellery was used to test the honesty levels of cabbies. Pic/Shadab Khan
Here’s what happened: Our reporters Vijay Yadav and Saurabh Vaktania posed as commuters and boarded several autos and taxis, each time ‘forgetting’ their bag on the passenger seat. The bags contained imitation jewellery along with fake handwritten receipts, mentioning the reporters’ names and phone numbers. These were written in Hindi to ensure the drivers could read the information.
mid-day reporter Saurabh Vaktania left his bag containing jewellery in the auto in Bandra. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The reporters discreetly followed the drivers, giving them ample time to call the phone number to return the bag. The results were disheartening: Out of seven ‘test rides’, only one driver made an attempt to return the ornaments. In the other six cases, when our reporters caught up with the dishonest drivers, they invariably lied. Some refused to admit our reporters had been their passengers, while others lied they were busy ferrying others to notice the bag. Each time, the reporters pointed out they knew that the drivers were lying since they had followed them the whole time.
Vijay Yadav left the bag on the rear seat of a taxi in Lalbaug. Pic/Sameer Markande
Date: March 21
Pick-up spot: Colaba Causeway
Time: 4:23 pm
Taxi number: MH 01 BD 4610
We decided to kick off the drive at the heart of the city in south Mumbai, so our reporter Saurabh boarded a cab at 4:23 pm from Colaba Causeway for Fashion Street. The man at the wheel was an elderly person who looked close to his sixties. In a brief chat with Saurabh, he said his name is Narayan Singh and he has been driving taxis since he was 18.
Test ride 1
“18 saal ka tha tab se gaadi chala raha hoon. Sari zindagi taxi chalate nikal gayi. Raste mein time mila toh ek vadapav khake din nikal leta hoon,” he said while talking about his decades-long career. After this short conversation with him, we thought it would be interesting to see how he would react to our experiment.
As decided, at 4:31 pm, Saurabh stopped the trip near Fashion Street and before getting off, he left behind a bag containing the jewellery box. Both our reporters, Saurabh and Vijay, then followed the cabbie as he drove off, expecting to get a call from the old man. On his way from Fashion Street towards Metro Cinema, the driver refused fares to all passengers. He then drove onto the JJ Flyover, and for a second, we thought that was the end of our chase, since bikes are not allowed on the bridge. But the traffic constable posted there excused us when we informed him that we were after the taxi to get our valuables back.
The taxi driver then stopped at the gas station in Byculla. Since he would recognise Saurabh if he went too close, it was Vijay who went to take a closer look and spotted the jewellery bag still on the backseat. But 15 minutes later, when he went back for another look, the bag was missing. The driver also got some repairs done there, and then drove to the JJ signal to hand the taxi over to the owner.
It was 5.34 pm, and an hour had passed since Saurabh left the bag in his car. It was time to confront him. The driver flatly denied any knowledge of a bag left behind. He said that he was busy ferrying two passengers after Saurabh and that he dropped one at CST and a second one at Lalbaug. This was all, of course, a lie. When we pointed this out to him, he got agitated and asked us to register a complaint against him if he is guilty, but we let him go since that was not the motive of the test.
Lies upon lies
Date: March 28
Pick-up spot: Hill Road, Bandra (W)
Time: 12:57 pm
Taxi number: MH 02 DK 6723
At 12:57 pm, Vijay boarded an auto from Hill Road in Bandra (W) close to Bandra police station, and after a short ride to Carter Road, he got down at 1:05 pm and left a similar bag behind with jewellery and bills inside. Saurabh and Vijay kept a watch on him from a distance and saw the driver — later identified as KP Tiwari — as he waited for passengers at Carter Road.
Test ride 2
After 15 minutes, Tiwari spotted the bag on the passenger seat. Without wasting a second, he opened the bag. While passing by his auto, Saurabh spotted him holding the jewellery box and checking the valuables inside. Once again, the reporters hoped the driver would call them on the number mentioned in the bill, but he instead hid the bag under his seat and drove off.
He could hardly believe his luck, and when he reached D'Monte Park Road, the auto driver stopped his vehicle at a secluded spot and checked the bag again. He also ferried one passenger to Perry Cross Road but never bothered to call the phone number on the bill. At 1:25 pm, we approached him and he was speechless on spotting us. As we started asking about the bag, he fumbled and confessed that he had kept it with him.
Even the expression in his eyes seemed guilty but when we asked him why he had not bothered to call us on the number provided on the bill, he also turned to lies. “Bhai humko kya maloom andar kya hai. Humne to bag ko khol kar nahi dekha,” he said, adding, “Bhai main to aap hi ko dhoondh raha tha Carter Road pe, lekin aap dikhe nahi. Main tumhara bag leker kya karunga. Mere pass joh kuch bhi hai usse main khush hoon.”
Date: March 28
Pick-up spot: DN Nagar, Andheri (W)
Time: 2:26 pm
Taxi number: MH 02 BA 2598
This would prove to be the only one in which the driver did the honest thing. Vijay boarded the auto from DN Nagar and got down a short distance away at Oshiwara. Once again, the bag with the jewellery was left behind on the seat, and our reporters followed the auto driver to watch his reaction.
Test ride 3
However, even before the driver could notice the bag, two boys flagged his auto down and spotted it lying on the backseat. We saw the boys opening the bag and going through its contents. They got into the auto and it drove off. We decided to follow and see how this twist would play out.
For a second, we thought that the boys had failed the honesty test too, but then they stopped outside Oshiwara police station and got out with the bag. Our reporters stopped them just as they were about to enter the police station.
The boys identified themselves as Amaan Sajan (15), a resident of Yari, and his friend Jayogesh Sawant (15), a resident of Four Bungalows. Both are Std X students at City International School in Andheri.
Sajan said, “When we saw the bag and opened it, we found gold in it. We asked the auto driver to describe his last passenger. We had no clue about who it was so we decided to approach the police.” “We were, in fact, excited to visit the police station for the first time,” Sawant piped up.
The auto driver, Shivanand Pandey, was also thrilled with the boys considerate gesture said, “They did an excellent job. They saw the bag first and asked me to take them to the police station first to give it to cops.”
'I'm not a thief'
Date: March 28
Pick-up spot: Carnival Cinema, Goregaon (W)
Time: 3.35 pm
Taxi number: MH O2 DK 7990
Vijay boarded an auto from the Carnival Cinema bus stop and alighted outside the Inorbit mall, following which the auto driver took a U-turn from the signal. Later, the auto driver stopped his vehicle and checked the bag Vijay had left behind.
Test ride 4
He opened it and saw the jewellery inside, and immediately kept it under his seat. He then went to have a paan and waited at the shop for over 20 minutes. He then went towards Goregaon station. Meanwhile, Vijay and Saurabh were following him on their bikes.
However, they lost him in the traffic. Thankfully, they had noted his registration number and found him near Goregaon station (West). He ferried a passenger to Bangur Nagar around 4.24 pm, following which we intercepted and asked about the bag. At first, auto driver Sunil Singh refused to recognise us and said he did not know what bag we were talking about.
It was only after he was told that we had followed him and threatened to check his auto that Singh gave us the bag from under his seat. However, he then said that such money is not good for him and he had kept the bag under the seat to return it later.
He tried to defend his honesty and said he had once gone to a passenger’s house to return the phone she had forgotten in his auto. Asked why didn’t he do the same this time and contact the phone number on the bill, he claimed there was no number in the bag. When we showed him the bill, Singh said, “Main chor nahi hoon. Main toh bag lautane wala tha der raat mein.”
Date: April 4
Pick-up spot: Marine Drive
Time: 1:16 pm
Taxi number: MH 02 DQ 0155
We got into the taxi at the main Churchgate signal at Marine Drive and travelled all the way to Islam Gymkhana before ‘forgetting’ our bag on the back seat of the taxi. The taxi driver was very old and did not notice the bag at first.
Test ride 5
He turned towards Babulnath temple and stopped there for passengers, but he could not find any. Then he waited at Mahalaxmi temple for a while and went towards the Mahalaxmi race course. We followed him on two bikes.
The taxi driver stopped at one food junction for a quick bite and finally noticed the bag while getting into his car. After seeing what was inside, he hid the bag somewhere in the taxi and then dropped two passengers at Mahalaxmi station.
Again, he waited at High Street Phoenix mall for passengers but got none. He drove off and we eventually stopped him at the Dadar flower market at 2.05 pm. The taxi driver identified himself as Lalji Sharma, a 67-year-old resident of Andheri west.
When we enquired about the bag, he said there was no such bag. He said he had been ferrying passengers the whole time and one of the passengers must have taken the bag, but this was clearly a lie. “I am driving taxi for the last 40 years and never has such an incident taken place. I swear on my two children that I have not taken the bag. I am ready to come to police station at any given time,” he said.
We searched the front and back seats in his taxi but did not find the bag. After a 15-minute discussion, he drove off and we were left empty-handed.
Lost in traffic
Date: March 29
Kurla signal, Eastern Express Highway
Time: 2.50 pm
Taxi number: MH 03 BN 947
We took an auto from Kurla signal and got down in five minutes at Amar Mahal junction in Tilak Nagar. While we were in the auto, Vijay struck up a conversation with the driver who looked to be in his early 50s.
Test ride 6
After paying him the fare, Vijay left the bag on the seat before exiting the vehicle. The auto driver took a sharp U-turn and sped his vehicle in the direction of Chembur. Though we tried to chase him on the bike, the auto driver managed to disappear in the traffic.
Thanks to his speeding, we lost the auto. We waited all day for a call from him, to return the jewellery, but to no avail.
Date: March 29
Pick-up spot: LBS Marg, Vikhroli (W)
Taxi number: MH 02 UA 8275
At 4.39 pm, Vijay took an auto from LBS Marg in Vikhroli and got down outside the BMC school on Powai’s Hiranandani road. Vijay made sure to leave the bag in a visible position on the back seat.
Test ride 7
He was sure that this time, the driver would definitely return the jewellery, since he had been very helpful during the ride and later, when asked for directions. We began following him and after a while, he stopped the auto. We thought he might have seen the bag and the phone number on the bill, and might have considered returning it, but the auto began moving again.
He parked near an isolated school and went through the bag. He waited there for over 15 minutes, but did not call us. At 5.10 pm, we confronted him and asked for the bag, and to our shock, he refused to recognise us. He finally remembered us when he told him where he picked up and dropped Vijay but said, “Kaunsa bag? Mujhe koi bag mila hi nahi.”
He lied that after dropping Vijay, he got three more passengers and dropped them. The truth is, he ferried just one passenger. He said, “Aapko chhodne ke baad teen bhaada aur mila mujhe. Wo hi log mein se koi aapka bag leke nikal gaya hoga.”
We told him our employer will remove us from our jobs or file a case against us if we didn’t get the jewellery. To this, he countered by saying that we could check his auto. However, we did not get to check his personal locker in the auto. We left the spot and waited for the driver to show some remorse and return the valuables, but he never called. This was particularly disappointing, since he had been so helpful and kind just some time ago, but soon revealed his dishonest side.
The honest ones
Not all cabbies and auto drivers are dishonest, as these recent examples show:
“People don’t realise the power of truth,” said Arun Shinde, who has been driving autorickshaws for 34 years and lives in a small slum in Bhatwadi in Ghatkopar. But Shinde knows the value of honesty all too well, and is willing to go to great lengths to uphold it. In a story that shows not all auto drivers are dishonest, Shinde spent two months looking for a woman who left her gold chain behind in his auto last year. He finally spotted her in February and reunited her with the chain.
The housewife and her husband had boarded his auto in December 2015 from Cama gully to Ghatkopar west. “Later, I noticed one gold chain was left behind. I immediately rushed back to the spot but did not find the couple. I went to Cama gully for two months to try and find them. In February, I saw the woman walking on the road and ran to her. She instantly remembered me. I was so happy to see that smile of that woman’s face. The person who is honest and happy in life, he will never face any problem,” recalled Shinde.
On February 21, the Kasturba Marg police found their hands full with a woman crying incessantly about the bag she had forgotten in an autorickshaw near Borivli station. Nothing they said seemed to console 45-year-old Sanjana Gupta, who had kept jewellery worth Rs 1.5 lakh in the bag.
Ten minutes later, her tears were replaced by a smile when she saw the auto driver, 55-year-old Kailash Kalicharan Yadav standing at the doorstep with her bag. Policemen were surprised to see such an example of honesty, and the cops felicitated Yadav with a bouquet and a Rs 500 reward.
Even cops can forget their belongings when in a hurry, just like Constable Pramila Sunil Kajale who forgot her bag — containing her phone and silver jewellery — in an auto on February 2. Sunil Gajanan Shirsat (59), a Thane resident who has been driving autos for 30 years, recalled, “After paying me, the passenger left with her husband. Later, I saw they had forgotten a bag with silver jewellery and a mobile phone. I returned the bag to the Thane Nagar police.” Police then traced the passenger, who turned out to be a police constable, and returned valuables to her on March 16.
“It would have taken a few minutes for me to sell the ornaments and easily get lots of money without any trouble. But, I decided to return it and I am glad that I did so, because the happiness, satisfaction, honour and respect I earned — I would have never got it from the ill-gotten money,” added Shirsat, who was felicitated by the senior inspector of Thane Nagar police station.
"In December 2014, MA student Tulika Bhattacharya was travelling from Vashi station to the APMC market area. She was with her friends and her college bag was a little heavy so she kept it behind the passenger seat in the auto. While getting down, she was in a hurry and did not remember to take it. “After a few minutes, I realised my mistake - the bag had my college ID, a few documents, some study material and cash. The bag also had my music player in it. I never got my bag back. I know it was my mistake, but there is something called honesty,” Tulika told mid-day.
Tulika Bhattacharya and Prachi Jadhav are just two among hundreds who forget their valuables in auto or taxis, never to see them again
22-year-old MBA student Prachi Jadhav is fond of photography and was heartbroken when she lost her DSLR camera worth nearly Rs 50,000 three years ago in an autorickshaw at Bandra Bandstand. “15 minutes after getting down from the auto, I realised that I had forgotten the camera. The auto wallah could have returned it to me as I had kept my contact details in the bag’s pouch, but he did not,” recalled the Palghar resident.
DCP: Dishonest drivers can be booked
DCP (crime) Dhananjay Kulkarni said, “I appreciate this test drive by mid-day. It is a very unique idea and shows a different side of the city. Drivers should return valuables to the passengers. According to the law, auto or taxi drivers who knowingly take the property of others, can be booked under Section 403 of the IPC (dishonestly misappropriating any movable property). Under it they can be punished with imprisonment for two years or with a fine or both.”
“In other cases where the drivers flee with valuables while the passenger is alighting, they can be booked for theft too. There have been such incidents in the past,” the DCP added. Kulkarni appealed to commuters to be a little more alert and follow a few pointers while travelling. He said, “While getting in the auto or taxi, one should take down the number of the vehicle. They should send it to a close friend. If they forget their belongings, they should first go to the police station with the taxi or auto number. We will help the passengers.”
— Inputs by Faisal Tandel
Taxi, auto unions react
“One cannot term taxi drivers honest or dishonest on the basis of an honesty test. Full inquiry is necessary. In many cases, taxi drivers have returned valuables to passengers,” said taxi union leader AL Quadros, who then blamed on passengers. “Most of the times, the next passenger takes the belongings that are left behind by the previous one. Similar things happen in BEST buses. Passengers are absent-minded and must stay alert while travelling. A month ago, a passenger had left two big suitcases in the taxi and never came back for them.”
Auto union leader Shashank Rao said, “Mostly, auto drivers return belongings. Recently, in Malwani, an auto driver returned a bag containing a laptop and the passenger’s important documents. Two years’ hard work was stored in that laptop which was returned to the commuter.”
Rao also said auto drivers are scared of undesirable repercussions if they report forgotten valuables to the police. “Earlier, if passengers forgot their valuables, the auto drivers would bring it to us and we would return them. But according to the new rule, the auto driver has to go the police station, where he may also be blamed.”
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