Sheela Devi earned around Rs 600 daily driving her Pink Auto around the city since 2013. She sent her three children to top private schools in Ranchi, paid for their extra classes, shared the house rent burden with her labourer husband and dared to dream of a happy life from her gradually rising income from the autorickshaw.
But the 35-year-old's dream run came to a halt three days ago. Her women-only Pink Auto, along with several others, has been taken off the road for fear of police action as it has been running illegally without government permit.
"I am in trouble because I have earned no money for the last three days. I even find it difficult to pay fees of my children," said Sheela Devi.
She took a loan of Rs 15,000 from her friends to pay the admission fees and other educational requirements of her children. "I thought I could pay back by driving," she said.
Pink auto-rickshaw drivers stage a dharna, demanding permanent road permits for the three-wheelers in Ranchi. (Diwakar Prasad/HT Photo)
Ranchi has around 12,000 autos on city roads. Of these, only 2,335 autos have permit to ply the trade, which doesn't include the Pink Autos. The district administration on a directive of the transport department has launched a drive, which doesn't differentiate on colour, against illegal autos,.
The Pink Autos debuted after the gang-rape and murder of a paramedical student in Delhi, to provide safe journey to women commuters in the city. A group of 12 women began the service, which ballooned to 40, and together they ferry around 1,000 women passengers every day.
Sheela is not alone in crisis. Since Tuesday, seven other Pink Autos of her colleagues have gone off the road. They claimed to have been making rounds of the transport office for permits for the last two years in vain.
Shamim Akhtar, the controller of Pink Auto Mahila Service, said: "We have submitted our demand to issue 200 permits at least for Pink Autos as special case." But they are yet to hear from the department.
Regional Transport Authority (RTA) secretary Rajesh Kumar Barwar said, "We cannot issue fresh permit, as it is a High Court order. Besides, we also have to remove autos that are running without valid permits."
The Jharkhand High Court had recently asked the RTA to rid the city of illegal autos and to not issue permits following public interest litigation that highlighted the city's pollution and traffic chaos.
"We cannot spare Pink Autos if they do not have permit as per the Motor Vehicle Act," Barwar said.
He said they would launch a fresh drive in a day or two against autos running without permits.
Disappearing Pink Autos have upset the clientele. "Pink autos are required for the city as crime rate is higher here. The state government should consider it seriously and sort out the permit issue," said Anita Kumari, a regular Pink Auto passenger.