Tamper tantrum

Apr 16, 2012, 06:42 IST | Shashank Rao

Asked how auto drivers plan to recover the losses they will suffer by staying off the roads (yet again) today, union leader Sharad Rao stopped just short of uttering the T word, offering a rather sly and cryptic 'drivers know how to recover their losses'.

On the eve of the strike announced by the Auto Rickshawmen’s Union, leader Sharad Rao made it all but obvious why his league of men are up in arms against the installation of tamper-proof e-meters in their vehicles. While the strike today will cause incalculable losses — both in terms of time and money — to the city’s hapless commuters, the union has a simple solution up its sleeve to ‘recover’ the losses it incurs by sulking off the roads for a whole day — tamper meters and charge commuters higher fares in the days that follow.

File pic

The shocking revelation was made by Rao, albeit via implication, yesterday. Asked how drivers would recover their losses, Rao smiled cryptically, saying, “They know how to recover losses and they will do it.” He refused to shed further light on what mysterious method he had prescribed to his followers. But in a city where passengers repeatedly complain of the meter running at breakneck speed and starting to count over the base fare well before traversing the initial 1.6 km, Rao left little to the imagination as to what mechanism the auto drivers had in mind.

The irony lost on him, Rao insisted that it was not just the passengers they abandoned, but the auto drivers themselves who stand to lose at least
Rs 200 each by staying off the road for an entire day. The government’s campaign for the installation of tamper-proof electronic mechanical meters is precisely to keep this kind of clandestine sleight of hand at bay. The process of conversion to e-meters began in March, after a High Court ruling made them mandatory. Till date, 200 auto rickshaws have been installed with e-meters.

Unlike e-meters, mechanical meters don’t show tell-all errors if they are tampered with. A mechanical meter has 67 teeth, a few of which can be easily clipped, causing the meter to complete a loop faster. “We have been continuing with our campaign to nab those who tamper their meters from time to time,” said a senior RTO official, on condition of anonymity.

Their cheery disposition at stark odds with citizens who gloomily brace themselves for a day of difficulty on the roads, members of the union happily claimed that over 85 per cent of the 1.4 lakh city rickshaws are on their rolls. “Over 7 lakh rickshaws across the state will be participating in the strike,” said Rao yesterday. The few who aren’t under his union’s umbrella belong to the smaller and less influential unions that have shown unwillingness to participate in the strike.

The union also announced yesterday that instead of an indefinite strike, it would only call off its autos for a day. “Unlike what we proposed earlier, this will be a one-day strike.” Rao added. “Tampered meters or not, there is no need for such a strike, as the government is considering the demands raised by the unions. There is no logic behind this strike,” said S Deshpande of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat.

In fact, a part of the general outrage at the strike stems from the fact that the state government has already accepted the demand for a hike of Re 1, taking the basic fare to Rs 12 from this Friday. It has also set up a one-member panel under former bureaucrat PMA Hakim, who will be evising a formula for revising fares after considering factors like CNG prices and the cost of living in the city.

Meanwhile, other auto unions reiterated that they would not participate in the strike. “We have asked our auto drivers to ply on the roads,” said Haji Shaikh, leader of an MNS-led auto union touted to have 15,000 members under its banner. The government warned that it would take strict action against those who disrupt the peace on the roads on the pretext of the strike. “We will cancel permits of those drivers who get involved in incidents of violence or take the law into their hands,” said SK Sharma, state transport secretary.  

>>MSRTC will ply an additional 70 buses in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, of which 25 will ferry passengers in Thane, and 10 within city limits.
>>BEST has promised to ply a maximum possible number of its fleet of about 4,700 buses. “We will dispatch buses to those areas where there are more passengers,” said N Walawalkar, BEST spokesperson.
>>42,000 taxis will be taking to the streets. “There is no need for us to go on strike. All taxis will be plying. Sharad Rao is doing this purely to satisfy his own ego,” said taxi union leader AL Quadros.

The fare story
The auto union claims that every day, an auto driver earns approximately Rs 1,200 of which he claims about Rs 200. A lion’s share of the amount has to be paid to the permit holder or owner of the rickshaw, and also for fuelling the vehicle up with CNG.

The traffic department arrived at Rs 11.44 as the new fare, but decided to round off the amount to Rs 12, so as to avoid inconvenience over small change. The hike will come in effect from April 20. 

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