Touts hold Mumbai RTOs to ransom, rough up mid-day photographer

Acting on the transport commissioner’s orders, RTO officials denied illegal agents entry, triggering loud protests at the Andheri and Tardeo offices; besides bringing work to a near-standstill, the agents threw their weight around by manhandling a mid-day lensman and slapping an army man

Corruption, it seems, is the least of the state’s worries as far as the illegal agents in the city’s RTOs are concerned. In a bid to show their clout on the first day they were kept out of transport offices, following strict orders from State Transport Commissioner Mahesh Zagade, the agents not only ground work to a near halt at the Andheri and Tardeo RTOs, they also manhandled a mid-day photographer capturing their protest, and slapped an army man.

On Sunday, mid-day had reported (‘Transport chief shows touts the door’) on RTO officials clearing the agents’ desks outside the buildings after Zagade had threatened to take strict action against them, beginning yesterday, if any tout was found at any of the 47 RTOs across Maharashtra. Sensing a threat to their illegal source of livelihood, the agents made life difficult for the common man and the auto and taxi drivers who had gone to the RTOs to get things done yesterday.

Andheri
Lensman threatened
At the tout-infested Andheri RTO, agents held loud protests on the road outside the building, where their umbrella-shaded desks used to be. To prevent touts from entering, the RTO authorities had placed several security guards at the entrance and were allowing only one person to enter at a time by keeping the iron grills shut.

Work got delayed and crowds of applicants swelled inside the RTO because of the agents’ protests. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Work got delayed and crowds of applicants swelled inside the RTO because of the agents’ protests. Pic/Nimesh Dave

As an added measure, they also started taking down details of those entering the premises and the purpose of their visit in a logbook. mid-day photographer Nimesh Dave, who reached the Andheri RTO around 12.15pm, saw a bunch of agents standing outside the RTO premises and heard them curse the authorities for preventing them from entering the premises.

When he took out his camera, a group of the agents approached him and began shouting and abusing him. “They asked me to keep my camera inside my backpack, claiming that an English daily had misrepresented some facts and blamed them,” said Dave. The situation began to get heated, and some of the illegal agents asked him to leave the place immediately.

The photographer asked the agents to calm down, but they continued to hurl abuses and threatened to damage his camera and lens. The group also pushed him and pulled at his bag. When Dave finally started his bike to leave the premises, a few of the agents began kicking the bike from behind and another altercation broke out. Dave managed to leave the RTO around 1.30 pm.

The Andheri RTO is known to be a haven for touts, who have a large presence there. Agents from around 100 driving schools and several car dealers that cover the western suburbs all the way to Dahisar carry out their business there. Sources from the RTO said they did not have enough staff members to control these unruly elements.

Tardeo
Army man slapped
Unlike other days, the RTO here remained nearly deserted, with groups of illegal agents standing outside the premises. A few of them even roamed about, telling people that work was not being carried out at the RTO. Around 2.30 pm, however, things began to get really ugly.

R Yadav (in white), the army man, with his mother at the Tardeo RTO
R Yadav (in white), the army man, with his mother at the Tardeo RTO

A female permit holder of a black-and-yellow taxi was standing near the RTO with her two sons and their Premier Padmini taxi to send it for scrapping. As per the rules, the old vehicle has to be taken to an RTO first, where documentation is done and parts of the taxi are broken off before the owners sell the vehicle off to a scrap yard or do whatever else they want with it.

The removal of the taxi’s parts including portions of the bonnet, the boot cover and the sides is usually done by welders at the RTOs, who are linked to touts and give them kickbacks. However, with work at a standstill, one of the permit owners’ sons, R Yadav, began breaking them off himself, using a hammer and chisel.

Angered by this assault on their income, a handful of agents went up to Yadav and, in a threatening tone, asked him to stop breaking off parts of his own taxi. They began asking him for documents to prove that he was the permit owner of the cab and also asked for identity proofs of his brother and mother.

When the Yadavs protested, stating that they had already taken permission from the authorities to break parts of the vehicle as the other formalities for scrapping it had been completed. This is when one of the agents slapped R Yadav and threatened him, and an RTO officer came running to the spot.

“When we are not working, how can he break the taxi? He, too, might be an agent,” one of the illegal agents told the RTO officer. When the officer checked the Yadavs’ identity cards, he realised that the brother who was slapped was an army man.

This prompted the RTO officials to silence the agents and tell them that the two sons had every right to scrap the taxi as their mother was the permit holder. The officers then monitored the process, while the agents grumbled. A group of people, representing a car dealer, who had come to get vehicles registered, were also threatened by touts.

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