The state transport department's campaign against auto-rickshaw drivers who refuse passengers and tamper meters is being stymied by political intervention. With not enough staff to execute the campaign and very little security for officers enforcing the law, the Regional Transport Office has been forced to go slow.
On Thursday, Wadala RTO halted its crackdown on auto-rickshaws due to lack of manpower and security. Andheri RTO, meanwhile, decided to focus only on taxi drivers. A senior transport official admitted that RTOs have been asked to go easy on auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers. "Politicians and union leaders are at the root of all problems. If RTO officials carry out checks, which they are obliged to do in public interest, politicians demonstrate outside our offices," he said.
The official added, "Why don't the union leaders disqualify errant drivers from their unions? It will deter other drivers from fleecing people. Instead, unions encourage such tendencies by holding protests."
Since the drive was launched a fortnight ago, politicians from various parties have been trying to thwart it. Sharad Rao, who belongs to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and heads biggest auto rickshaw union, has been strongly opposing any action.
Significantly, the home department, which governs the police, is headed by Rao's party colleague RR Patil. Congress minister Naseem Khan too was vocal against the action. Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi threatened of agitation if the action continued.
With BMC elections around the corner, all political parties want to sympathise with rickshaw drivers many of who are part of their votebank. An official from Wadala RTO requesting anonymity said, "Neither are we provided with arms to protect ourselves, nor does any police team accompany us during the drive. How are we expected to face rickshaw drivers, who gather in hordes the moment we start action?"
Transport commissioner VN More admitted that there was a shortage of staff. "The drive is deterrent activity; it cannot be conducted daily. Security cannot be provided for every drive; the police does not arrive when summoned."