Vote-bank politics drives Naseem Khan to say... 'Auto drivers are innocent'

Guardian Minister of Mumbai Suburbs wants officials to go after the shops that tamper meters and not the drivers who make money off them

In a surprising take on the rickshaw strike controversy, Guardian Minister of Mumbai Suburbs Naseem Khan says auto drivers do not have the technical know-how to tamper with the meter. Hence, the RTO should not bother them; rather, the officials should shut the shops of people who sell the rigged meters, the minister advocates.

Let them go: Naseem Khan said that investigations of metre tampering
should be aimed against shop owners

Then, he insists he is opposed to the strike, but only after adding, in the same breath, that he wants the harassment of auto drivers to stop. "The investigations should be aimed against the shops selling the meters, as they tamper with the equipment, not the rickshaw drivers. They do not have the technical knowledge to do that," he opines. 

It's a known fact that many rickshaw drivers -- roughly 25,000 -- stay in Chandivli, Kurla, Kamani, Sakinaka, Hirananndai Powai, Navpada, Sunderbaug, 90 Feet Road, Khairani Road, and surrounding areas, which are part of the Chandivli constituency represented by Khan.

A police official displays the faulty meters that were seized

But ask him why he is siding with the rickshaw drivers, he states, "It's not vote bank politics. Instead I am the guardian minister of the suburbs which are the worst affected because of the strike. So I am trying to solve the issue."

In a wave of sympathy for how drivers are made to run around for paperwork and permits, he continues, "Many drivers have told me that whenever they go for renewal of licences, they have to take the help of agents. For any sort of clearance, they are dependent on them. It is not smooth sailing for them either."

But how does one justify the refusal from the auto drivers to ply short distances? He doesn't, but recommends, instead, that people spare a thought for the tribulations of the autowallahs as well. "Rickshaw drivers generally don't refuse commuters, but if they do, there could be a genuine reason, like it could be their closing time or some such thing," he says, concluding his sympathetic sentiment.

Won't budge: Auto drivers continued to stay off the streets for most of
the day yesterday making it the third day that commuters had to suffer
without rickshaws. pic/sachin Halde

Then, he goes on to declare that he does not support the auto strike.

"I do not support the strike," Khan avers, "I have decided to call in for a meeting of auto unions and RTO officers at the collector's office on Thursday, so it can be called off."

However, MNS MLA Ram Kadam, from Khan's neigbouring constituency of Ghatkopar West, doesn't agree with him. "I am not in complete agreement with Khan on the issue that rickshaw drivers are unaware whether their meters are tampered or not. There could be a few who are ignorant, but there would be several who would know about it. Also, let there be a thorough investigation in the matter so people who are found guilty are punished," says Kadam.

He adds that there are many incidents when the rickshaw drivers refuse to ply old people, women and even pregnant women. In order to bring the discrimination to an end, Kadam reveals he had kicked off a movement in his constituency to do away with the practice by exhorting drivers to accept small fares as well. He also expects rickshaw drivers across the city to be more sensitive to people's needs before snubbing them.

Approximate number of rickshaw drivers who stay in Chandivli, Kurla, Kamani, Sakinaka, Hiranandani Powai, Navpada, Sunderbaug, 90 Feet Road, Khairani Road, and surrounding areas, which are part of the Chandivli constituency represented by Khan

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