If yesterday’s protest called by Sharad Rao assistant general secretary of the Mumbai Auto Rickshawmen’s Union was meant to showcase his strength and hold over auto drivers in the city, then it did just the opposite.
Claiming that the protest held in Bandra (East) was a hit, Rao said, “There were nearly 15,000 drivers present for the protest.” However, police officials deployed in the area to avert untoward incidents during the agitation claimed that not more than 500 auto drivers were present at the venue. The fact that scores of autos were plying in the eastern and western suburbs bore testimony to the fact that the protest received a lukewarm response from auto drivers.
The protest led to traffic jams on roads leading to Bandra (East). The union officials claimed that the agitation was called off at 3 pm, after their representatives met transport department officials. Demands made by Rao’s union included renewal of one lakh dead permits to the batch holders across the state, social security for auto drivers, insurance benefits and other government facilities, and the establishment of a corpus fund that would take care of monetary benefits and settlements for the drivers.
If the poor response to the protest called by Rao is the yardstick using which his call for Bharat bandh on February 20 and 21 is to be measured, then it is likely that the bandh may just fizzle out. Auto and taxi drivers, hawkers, BEST bus drivers, shop owners, members of railway and municipal corporation unions are supposed to be a part of Rao’s Bharat bandh. The protest is likely to hit hard several essential services.
Commenting on the bandh, Rao said, “Before deciding on the bandh, we had a considerable number of meetings with the unions and employees of municipal corporations, BEST and state transport, autorickshaw and taximen, hawkers, retail and wholesalers.” Rao claimed that almost 20 lakh workers from the city and one crore from the entire state are expected to take part in the bandh. He added that if the bandh fails, protest would be held on March 5, 6, and 7 followed by a weeklong agitation from April 25 to May 1.
Nipped in the bud
Chairperson of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat Shirish Deshpande said that since public transport is an essential service, the state could be requested to invoke MESMA and take immediate preventive measures against unions that have threatened to paralyse the transport system. A directive issued by the high court in the past states that no one can declare a bandh and bring a nation to a standstill.