Most of the auto drivers who stopped plying yesterday did so out of fear that their vehicles would be vandalised by the protesting union members; the auto union undertook a procession to the Bandra transport office
Auto commuters in the city were left reeling yet again yesterday, with autos disappearing from sections of the suburbs from the early hours.

While the ostensible reason cited by drivers while refusing fares was a strike to demand for a fare hike, MiD DAY's investigations revealed that most of the auto drivers had taken their vehicles off the road, fearing that they would be vandalised by autocratic union members who demanded unequivocal compliance from all drivers in the city.

According to sources in the auto rickshaw union, members were participating in a protest rally to the transport office in Bandra, when they suddenly saw some autos ferrying passengers on the streets.

This evoked their wrath, and they fell upon the non-committal auto drivers and vandalised their vehicles. The protest march was carried out by members of the Mumbai Autorickshaw Men's Union, which is led by trade unionist Sharad Rao.

"During the procession, protesting auto drivers smashed those rickshaws which had taken to the roads for business. This created panic among a majority of the auto-rickshaw drivers in the suburbs, who then decided to call off operations. We got complaints from different parts of the city about their savage ways," said Thampy Kurian, general secretary, Mumbai Rickshaw Men's Union, which did not participate in the rally.

An auto driver from Andheri said, "I was informed by a fellow driver in Santacruz that autos were being vandalised. I informed my other friends after that. No one wants their vehicles to be damaged, and to protect them, we stopped plying."

DCP (traffic) Nandkumar Chougule confirmed that no organised strike had been held, saying, "It was not a strike but a procession, in which about 5,000 auto drivers participated. They resumed ferrying passengers after 5 pm."

The number of autorickshaw drivers who participated in the rally

Union leader speaks
Shashank Rao, assistant general secretary of the Mumbai Autorickshaw Men's Union said, "I have heard reports that some of the autos were vandalised. I condemn these acts, and had issued no such orders to the members of our union. We merely organised a dharna, which concluded at 5:30 pm, after which all the drivers resumed operations."

Auto drivers speak

I come from Diva to Ghatkopar every day to drive my vehicle. I was ferrying people as usual, and charging them fares according to the meter. But suddenly a crowd of people approached me and started beating me up. A schoolgirl was in my rickshaw, along with her mother. I had to ask them to dismount, and was forced to go off the road.
� Vivek Modhave, Ghatkopar

No one cares when rickshaw drivers are brutally beaten up, and the police doesn't lift a finger to protect us. But when we retaliate, everybody points fingers at us.
� Ganesh Adiga, Vikhroli

I ply my rickshaw on a sharing basis. We are protesting against the use of the meters. I need to earn money today, so I have to ply my vehicle. I am charging Rs 20 for every trip from Kannamwar nagar to the station.
� Sadanand Thumbe, Vikhroli

We are easy targets for everyone. When we react to injustices like normal human beings, it is taken the wrong way. I don't think it was right to beat up passengers, but if we are threatened, we will obviously react.
� Manohar Yadav, Ghatkopar