Auto rickshaws in western and central suburbs claiming to be harassed by RTO and traffic police, refused to ply from 10 am yesterday; cops, union leaders claim ignorance of any strike

Irked by RTO officials and traffic constables allegedly penalising auto rickshaws in the city, auto drivers in the western and central suburbs went on a strike from 10 am yesterday, leading to packed trains and overcrowded buses. 

holding people ransom: Autos stand in long queues as they refused to
ply the roads as part of a protest against RTO officials harassing them
over fines. (Left) Auto drivers agitate near Andheri Railway station.
pics/sayed sameer abedi

Rickshaw drivers claimed that the RTO officials constantly accused them of being corrupt and constables regularly fined them over petty issues. "Constables fine us even if they find a torn seat cover or a broken accessory in the rickshaw, some times we are made to cough up upto Rs 5,000, which is unfair," said Suresh Bhagwaan, a rickshaw driver. A rickshaw driver from Mulund, Shrikant Jadhav, who was plying in the area said, "The strike is in the western suburbs, we are aware of it, but at the end of the day we have to feed our family with the daily income, and hence we are working."

However, the Mumbai Auto Rickshaw Men's Union declined any role in the strike. "We are unaware about this and have not declared any such strike. This is completely out of the driver's own choice," said Vivek Khanvilkar, assistant secretary of the union. Echoing the same view, the Joint Commissioner of State Transport, Satish Sahastrabudhe, said, "We have no idea about the strike and we were not informed about it. "

Police officials in the city claimed that the rickshaw drivers are rude and non-cooperative. D Patil, inspector of Bandra Police Station said, "We have received several complaints from people about drivers not charging according to the meter. They never follow the parking regulations and create a nuisance on the roads. We are trying our best to help people reach their destinations in this situation."

The auto strike caused inconvenience to several commuters who were left stranded at railway stations. Many had to resort to crowded buses or taxis. "I had to wait for a rickshaw for almost 30 minutes, as none of the rickshaws were cooperating. Finally I had to walk to Linking Road from Bandra Station," said Mehmood Khanzada, who commutes by train.

It was a similar situation at Borivli, Andheri and Vile Parle. Karishma Shah, a student from a Vile Parle college, said, "I had to call up my friend as I was waiting in college for almost an hour without an auto. We commuters are often made to suffer over some reason or the other."

Complaining about the autos charging extra, another Ghatkopar resident, Dharmendra Krishna said, "The RTO has taken appropriate action against the auto drivers in Mumbai. Every day I travel from Ghatkopar to Chembur, the auto rickshaws charge me Rs 85 while the taxis take me to the same destination in Rs 75."