The threat of auto-rickshaws going off the road still looms large over the western suburbs. At a morcha held on Friday afternoon outside the Andheri Regional Transport Office (RTO), auto-rickshaw drivers, backed by Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi, maintained an aggressive stance.
Several drivers HT spoke to claimed that they were willing to strike work for their demands, even if no union backed them. “We don’t mind going off the road again if the government doesn’t heed to our demands,” said Sanjay Singh, an auto-rickshaw driver from Andheri, who was present at the morcha.
The belligerent stance comes in the wake of the Andheri RTO’s crackdown on tampered meters, in which 97 of the 150 rickshaws checked were found to be operating with rigged meters. The RTO imposed a fine of Rs2,600 on each driver and confiscated the meters. Following this, several drivers rushed to get their meters re-calibrated, which has now led to a dip in earnings. Sources said that, on an average, a driver with a rigged meter earns Rs200 per day, after deducting all expenses such as repairs and fuel cost. With meters calibrated properly, this figure is likely to drop by 20%, resulting in a loss of nearly Rs40 a day.
However, auto-rickshaw drivers present at the morcha on Friday insisted that their demands were about a hike in fare and relief from harassment by RTO officials and traffic police. “The RTOs are levying fines over the smallest of issues. For instance, we have to pay a fine for broken headlights and taillights, or damaged seats. As if that wasn’t enough, there is this crackdown on meters,” said Rajan Jadhav, an auto-rickshaw driver. The demands made on Friday included relief from rising prices of auto parts and oil.
RTO officials, meanwhile, justified the campaign against faulty meters. “Drivers might be right in claiming that the RTO staff is corrupt, but that doesn’t give them the liberty to overcharge people,” said a RTO official, on condition of anonymity.