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A Day Without Auto Rickshaws: Inconvenience, Intimidation and Corruption
Last week's auto rickshaw strike in Delhi showed the key role auto rickshaws play in Indian transportation systems, as well as the deep-seeded corruption affecting the sector. Photo: Dey.

Last week's auto rickshaw strike in Delhi showed the key role auto rickshaws play in Indian transportation systems, as well as the deep-seated corruption affecting the sector. Photo by Dey.

An estimated 55,000 auto rickshaw drivers went on strike in Delhi last week, complicating commutes by putting extra pressure on other modes of public transit. The strike was led by auto rickshaw drivers’ unions, which demanded a fare increase and that Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit retract her statements supporting the phase-out of auto rickshaws.

Union leaders blamed the strike on the government’s “irresponsible” statement. “We held a meeting with the transport minister A.S. Lovely and the transport commissioner. They had agreed to look into the issue of the fair hike soon. But the government did not issue a statement taking back its statement about phasing out auto rickshaws,” one said. “Had they done it on Wednesday and if the message had spread, drivers would have been running their autos on Thursday.”

Commuters were forced to hire radio taxis at inflated prices (if they could get one) or push their way onto overcrowded buses. Delhi residents directed their frustration over these inconveniences towards the auto rickshaw drivers; however, the story behind the strike may not be so black and white.

Simon Harding of Delhi’s AMAN Trust argues in this post that most auto rickshaw drivers were not actually in favor of it. In contrast, he writes, they stayed off the streets due to fear of violence and “hood slashing.” The unions, who have little concern for driver welfare and enjoy small memberships, hire “hooligans” to slash the yellow plastic hoods of drivers breaking the strike and sometimes physically assault the drivers themselves.

Harding points out that the increased meter fares demanded by the unions does nothing to help drivers, but directly benefits the financiers who control the system.

An increase in driver earnings will quickly prompt the contractors to hike daily rents on their fleets of rented autos in order to capture the increase. Higher fares will also inflate the price of an auto permit even further (currently at Rs 3 lakhs), providing a nice pay day for auto-financiers who control Delhi‘s artificially limited supply of permits. The strike is in the interests of financiers and contractors.

In turn, Harding suspects a link between the financiers and some unions.

Meanwhile, auto rickshaw drivers, some of India’s poorest citizens, were forced to stay home, passing a day with no income.

Delhi’s auto rickshaw strike calls attention to a couple key points. First, auto rickshaws play a vital role in Indian cities’ transportation systems. Without them, commuters are paralyzed. Moreover, the auto rickshaw sector is riddled with corruption and inequities that affect some of India’s most vulnerable citizens. Reforming the sector should be a key priority for lawmakers.

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  • i am indian .i came here to usa
    i an missing india
    specially rickshaw
    it is good vihical in the whole world
    it is comfortable
    i love the vibratin happen in that vahical

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  • Madhav,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It is interesting how mega sporting events, like the Commonwealth Games and, more notably, the Olympics, can spur a city to invest in transportation. In my view, “world-class” should be synonymous with mobility and accessibility, so if cycle rickshaws improve both, then they should stay on the streets.

    Keep us posted on additional stories you find on this issue.

    Erica

  • Madhav Badami

    There has been much recent discussion on the need to regulate the auto-rickshaw sector in India, especially in the wake of the reports that the Delhi government is proposing to ban or limit their numbers.

    The auto-rickshaw sector does need to be regulated, for the sake of the poor operators as well as the passengers, as well as the public at large, but I wonder whether and to what extent the motivation for banning them or limiting their numbers in Delhi comes from any real concern about or understanding of their negative impacts in terms of, for example, congestion or air pollution (after all, they all run on CNG, supposedly a “clean” fuel, in Delhi), or from the desire to spruce up the city in preparation for the Commonwealth Games that will be coming to town later this year, and that auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws don’t quite fit the image that the authorities want to project to foreign visitors. See the Guardian story (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/18/delhi-plans-ban-autorickshaws), in which the Chief Minister’s views are described as follows:

    “Dikshit has repeatedly said that making Delhi a world-class city is a key aim. The city has already tried to limit the number of cycle rickshaws. But Delhi’s high court ruled last month that capping their numbers was illegal.

    The defenders of the motorised versions point out that, as the vehicles run on compressed natural gas, their contribution to air pollution in the city is minimal compared with cars. Others argue that rickshaws fulfil an essential function in ferrying people short distances to metro stations or bus stops.

    Dikshit has another Delhi icon in her sights: the famous brusqueness of the capital’s inhabitants. She hopes to bring about a major “cultural change” before Delhi hosts the Commonwealth games this autumn.

    “We have to do some things that are extremely basic like keeping the city clean, giving our citizens the culture of politeness and sharing and caring for each other, so that the world goes back with an impression that they have been to a truly civilized city,” she said.” (End of quote)

    Sadly, it appears that the urban poor in Delhi are also paying a very high price, all in the interests of “the world go(ing) back with an impression that they have been to a truly civilized city”:

    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?262987

    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/hc-slams-mcd-for-razing-slums-in-games-runup/572302/

    http://www.thesamosa.co.uk/index.php/news-and-features/politics-and-policy/295-in-the-name-of-the-games.html

    http://www.thehindu.com/2010/04/16/stories/2010041657700100.htm

    Madhav Badami

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  • Politicians are so incapable, sometimes, of understanding the concept of cause and effect.