They are a notorious bunch… known for demanding arbitrary prices (50 rupees for south-ex from LSR), having a faulty meter (if they agree to use it) or finding excuses to charge extra. These little tanashahis(dictators) on wheels are a part of the everyday lives of the middle class. Yet, the middle class know (and care) so little of their grievances. Auto-hartals yields attention but not sympathy.
I had also belonged to the same “it’s his problem” attitude, until yesterday when I had an unusual auto ride yesterday where I was turned a mute listener. I had been advised to hire an auto from the prepaid system. It is easy and hassle-free but the auto drivers are not in favour of it (afterall, it kills their hope to ‘loot’ the ‘poor’ customers) so they try to convince you against it. But I had it my way. The traffic policeman then helped me find an auto. The auto driver that he had chosen tried to refuse as he had to go in the opposite direction for some work. But the traffic policeman did not listen. I felt a little bad for him but I couldn’t do anything (you don’t really argue with a policeman in Delhi).
Since I was coming from the station, he thought I was new to delhi so he started telling me the important places. He then told me how he had to report to his owner immediately. I told him that he should have told the policeman the same. I think that had pinched him. He then started off telling me how everyone- the policeman, the prepaid system, the government and even the trade union members are betrayers (he used “Harami” for each group).
The prepaid system has an in-built commission in the name of service tax. He told me the importance of that 5 rupees per ride. He argued that the policeman chooses the passing-by autos rather than the ones which are standing there as he takes money from the latter (they still have the hope to ‘loot’).
The government is a pain for everyone. But with the recent law, it has stung the auto drivers most bitterly. According to the new law, the autos will have a GPRS system and will have a machine which would calculate the fare and give a receipt. It will help exercise a lot of check on the drivers-turned-monsters and make the rides safe. It seems to be pro-customers (I don’t know if it means an increase in the fare). But one’s boon always turns out to be bane for another. The government expects the auto drivers to pay for this new facility. The original demand was of 50,000. After a hartal, it was pushed down to 14,000. But this is unacceptable and illogical. Why do they have to incur the cost? They will not be getting anything out of this unprofitable investment.
Auto driving is also not a very lucrative career option. How much can an auto wala earn each day? They also have to pay 250 or 300 rupees to the owner every day. CNG cost is also incurred by them. They work day and night to earn a few hundreds. Like their customers, they also have a family to support. I asked him about his family. He had two kids and a sister for whose marriage he had to save 5 lakhs.
I enquired about the auto trade union. I realized I had touched another nerve. He told me how they were all betrayers. Some would see the hartal as an opportunity for earning more. He had idealized the auto trade union of Maharashtra. The Delhi auto union, in contrast, is not well-organised and is divided on the lines of regional identities (He considered people from a certain state the worst of the betrayers).
This auto driver, whom I happened to meet, was not extraordinary. He was a simple man who just spoke his heart out. And by doing that, I saw the real face of an auto-wala…Another victim of this oppressive Govt. I am not justifying the harassment by most auto drivers. Cheating is unfair but they are also helpless, to a large extent. The new GPRS law is even more unfair. In their struggle against the Government, we can atleast sympathise with them, if nothing more.