You’re a foreigner, so you must be rich.” The cold and calculated deduction made by an auto driver last year still rings in Michaela Kreuterova’s mind.
“All you need to do is to... buy something,” she was told. Not requested. The 32-year-old NGO worker had left her home in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and moved to Delhi in 2003.
She was hardly a tourist when she hopped into the auto at Khan Market to go to her Chanakyapuri residence.
“He took me to shops near the Yashwant Shopping Complex. When I refused and said I wanted to get off, he said he wouldn’t stop the auto.”
She had to shout for help to escape.
There are 55,000 autos in Delhi. Not all are driven by louts. But it’s important the drivers of the three-wheelers don’t lose the plot come October when more than a lakh foreign tourists arrive for the Commonwealth Games.
Autos are not the only concern.
Laura Muller (name changed) from Berlin was conned by a travel agent. “I booked a 20-day tour package and got overcharged by over 600 Euros (Rs 38,000),” said Muller, who had come to Delhi on a three-week vacation. “I spent the last seven days arguing with the travel agent and the police.”
Auto drivers and travel agents have their own justification. “I must pay the owner of the auto and for the CNG as well. There’s no alternative but to enter into arrangements with hotels for a little commission,” said Rajkumar Sood (25), an auto driver.
The economics of it is simple. “Small shops and nondescript hotels can’t afford to advertise,” said Manoj Sharma (35), a taxi service operator-cum-hotel owner in Karol Bagh. “So they pay commission to anyone who persuades a customer to use their services.” The ‘persuasion’ can get bizarre sometimes.
Christian Byfield, a student, hired a taxi from the IGI airport on June 1. “He was told Delhi was ‘in the grip of a civil war’ and the only safe place was Karol Bagh,” a police officer said. Byfield ended up paying $200 (Rs 9,260) for a one-night stay.
“We are aware of the problems and they will be solved well before the Games,” said Sujit Banerjee, the Union tourism secretary.