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Auto strike ends in Mumbai

The proposed 72-hour strike was called off after Vilasrao Deshmukh put on hold the decision of making e-meters compulsory. Nikhil Khedekar & Puja Pednekar report.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2008 02:07 IST

Serpentine queues at bus stops, taxi drivers overcharging and people hitching rides. These scenes were witnessed on Tuesday after autorickshaw drivers across the state struck work to protest against the implementation of electronic meters.

Though the proposed 72-hour strike was called off by Tuesday evening after Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh put on hold the decision of making e-meters compulsory for autorickshaws, people in the suburbs and neighbouring Thane suffered for 15 long hours.

“I waited for more than 30 minutes at a bus stop near my Kandivli house to reach the railway station,” said software engineer Prasad Jagi (30). “The strike has hit the common man the hardest.”

Though at some places union members were seen forcing autorickshaw drivers to stop plying, at places like Kurla and Bandra Terminus, the black-and-yellow autos were seen on the roads. “We do not belong to any unions,” said autorickshaw driver Ashraf (40) outside Kurla Terminus.

The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking’s attempt to ease commuters’ woes helped — but just a bit.

The BEST ran 105 extra buses, but still most of them were crowded. “The staff was on eight-hour additional shifts and did more trips to counter the strike,” said BEST chairman Pravin Chheda.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers in the suburbs made hay by overcharging desperate commuters. “A cabbie asked for Rs 30 for a minimum fare distance. I was helpless and had to take it as there were no autos around,” said Bandra resident Payal Sharma (26). “The state should take action against taxi drivers who take advantage of hapless citizens.”

Even private taxi owners saw a jump in number of bookings. “We got a lot many calls and there was almost a 30-per cent increase in bookings. We tried to cater to as many calls as possible,” said Prateeka Roongta, on behalf of Meru Cabs, a private taxi operator.

Thane resident Shruti Iyer almost missed getting an admission. “I almost missed my third-year BMM admissions because I could not find an auto to reach the station. Buses were too crowded and taxi drivers were overcharging.”

Businessman Ravi Kumar Pillai (48) walked all the way to his Thane home, which is 6 km away from the station. “There are no autos at the stand. And as the bus stop is far and queue too long, I decided to walk home.”

Shaikh Mukhthiar (40), who works at a private company in Kalyan, received a call from his father asking him to pick him up from Thane station, where he had been waiting for about two hours.

“The cost of e-meters is almost double that of mechanical ones. One e-meter costs nearly Rs 12,000. Add another Rs 500 as maintenance cost,” said Raju Raut, general secretary of the Viju Natekar Riksha and Taxi Union in Thane. “Moreover, there’s no system for midnight additional charge. On what basis will we charge extra between 12 am and 5 am?”

At the domestic airport, fliers were seen trudging heavy baggage, courtesy the auto strike. Domestic terminals largely depend on three-wheelers compared to the international terminals, which have a robust taxi network.

The Mumbai International Airport Limited — the GVK-led private consortia modernising the airport — arranged for two buses to ferry fliers to Vile Parle station — the closest railway station.

However, considering air traffic during the peak period it did not help much — nearly three flights land every minute in Mumbai airport. Piyali Sanyal, who came on a vacation to Mumbai, had to call her brother to fetch her from the airport. “I waited for nearly an hour for the bus, but they were too crowded,” said the traveller from Kolkata.

(With inputs from Rajendra Aklekar, Soubhik Mitra and Susamma Kurian)