He may be the leader of Mumbai's largest labour force - his unions have a stronghold in the BEST and the BMC and he controls the city's biggest auto union - but for average Mumbaiites, Sharad Rao is the man behind the strikes that disrupt their lives.
Excerpts from the interview with the NCP leader who may throw your life out of gear on November 9 with another auto strike.
You are known for holding the city to ransom by calling strikes. Isn't there another option to address labour issues than call strikes?
It is the government and the politicians who deny employees their rights and force them to agitate. When auto drivers went off the roads, authorities portrayed us as villains. But no one asks why there was no fare hike from 2004 to 2010. The Re 1 hike in 2010 was given after the CNG price went up. What other option do they have but to protest? When we agitated recently, for the first time, the government considered the issue of inflation and gave us a 50 paise hike.
Auto drivers went on a strike after the RTO cracked down on tampered meters. It was not about fare hike or inflation.
We have never objected to action against rigged meters. Our agitation for a fare hike was long overdue and it happened coincidentally during the crackdown.
Why do you oppose electronic meters?
I was a part of the committee that studied electronic meters and we found that they too can be tampered with easily. We will go to court if the government makes them compulsory without considering their limitations. Instead of taking action against drivers for rigged meters, authorities should study why drivers do it. We know policemen take bribes because their salaries are low. The same is the case with auto drivers.
Commuters in the far-flung suburbs are protesting share-auto schemes. Why then do you want it in Mumbai?
At least 80% of the traffic in any suburb moves between residential areas and railway stations, so share-autos is the need of the hour. There should be two types of colour-coded services: One for share-autos and one for long-distance autos. Then there will be fewer complaints about drivers refusing fare.
Are you planning another strike on November 9?
We have a meeting with transport authorities on October 29. Based on that discussion, we will decide our course of action. We want them to fix fares based on a formula meant for autos, not taxis. The Delhi government has worked out a formula that considers factors such as inflation and vehicle maintenance and approved a minimum fare of Rs 19 for the first two kilometres. Something similar should be worked out for Mumbai.