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Taking on the 'Auto'cracy

Autorickshaws form a large part of the transportation system in any Indian metro, and nowhere are they  "well-behaved". Wherever you go, there is meter-tampering, bullying by autorickshaw unions, drivers refuse to ply, and even resort to violence to get their point across.

This newspaper's Meter Down campaign, which is running simultaneously in Mumbai and Pune, is a prime example of how, even after exposing the lawlessness of the auto drivers, authorities are unable to bring them to book. It is as if the entire sector has become some sort of a political game, with even ministers and leading MLAs being part of the "harass the commuter" brigade.

A Maharashtra minister, Arif Naseem Khan, has openly supported the autorickshaw unions' bullying tactics because a large part of the autorickshaw driver population lives in his constituency. When this newspaper approached the Mumbai Regional Transport Office -- the nodal authority to govern autos in the island city -- to take part in the Meter Down campaign, some very senior officials declined, saying (off the record, of course) that there is intense political pressure to "go slow" on errant autorickshaw drivers.

It will be no surprise if this directive has come from a top official of the Maharashtra government. If indeed it has, then it is a bleak situation for the traveling public in Mumbai and Pune, the two biggest cities in the state. While this newspaper will not give up on its campaign to bring errant drivers to book with the help of the traffic police, it is imperative that even the state government -- no matter what its presumed political compulsions are � should pay heed to the needs of the general public, rather than a fickle vote bank.

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