A passenger waits for loose change from an auto driver on HB Road in Ranchi on Tuesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Unbridled ‘auto-cracy’ has made commuting a nightmare in Ranchi.
Rogue three-wheelers — many plying without valid permits — take passengers for a repulsive ride, fleecing and abusing them, while law-keepers seek formal complaints to lift a finger.
Tuesday was yet another day of transport terror for capital commuters.
A college girl, who boarded an auto-rickshaw from Ratu Road for Lalpur, was made to get down midway because she refused to pay Rs 10 instead of the fixed Rs 8 fare and then could not tender the exact change. The driver charged her Rs 5 and left with a taunt: “Bina change ke ghar se mat nikla karo goggles laga ke. (Don’t venture out of your home with goggles and without change).”
Not just this one, auto-rickshaw drivers have many plans up their sleeves to fleece passengers.
For instance, the fare from Lalpur Chowk to Plaza Cinema — a distance of barely a kilometre — is Rs 4, but the drivers return a balance of only Rs 5 against Rs 10. If one offers Rs 4 change and asks the Rs 10 back, he speeds away saying: “Aage Firayalal mein aake lelijiyega. Abhi time nai hai, bahut jaam hai. (Come to Firayalal and take. I don’t have time now, the road is getting congested).”
Recently, an auto-rickshaw driver broke a passenger’s nose during a brawl over change in Calcutta. Ranchi may not have witnessed such a frightful incident yet, but bullying is routine. Many say this ‘auto-cracy’ is a reflection of the city’s culture, which is increasingly becoming violent.
“Auto drivers behaving rudely with passengers is a daily norm here. They refuse to return the exact balance and often leave you stranded for not having change or protesting against their wayward ways,” said Sumit Agarwal, a PhD student of Ranchi University and a daily commuter.
What is more disturbing perhaps is that while a person grapples with a foul-mouthed auto-rickshaw driver’s high-handedness, fellow passengers seldom raise their voice in protest. “It is probably because everybody is so tied up that they do not wish to waste time in arguments. The why-should-I-bother attitude reflects the society’s great divide,” Agarwal said.
Besides the disintegrating social fabric, there is another primary reason that bolsters this ‘auto-cracy’ — political patronage. “Most autos are backed by some union or party. Police do not act against them because they apprehend dharnas and bandhs. Here is where the system fails miserably,” said banker Rishi Kashyap, who occasionally takes an auto-rickshaw to work.
When confronted, auto-rickshaw drivers blamed crunch of loose change for commuter troubles.
“At times, we take a rupee or two less because people are unable to tender exact change. But, passengers often give us Rs 50 or Rs 100 for fares of Rs 10 or Rs 12. In such a situation, returning change is impossible. They should tell us they have no change before simply hopping onto our autos,” contended Santosh Yadav, a driver on Albert Ekka Chowk route.
But, does that give drivers the licence to badmouth passengers? “There are times when even we are abused and insulted. No one raises a question then,” he retorted.
Traffic DSP R.N. Singh couldn’t deny the “increased conflict between public and auto drivers”, but claimed that police always took necessary action. “Auto drivers charge extra and cheat people. But, people don’t complain to police for reasons like lack of time or unwillingness to get into trouble with the drivers. However, we crack the whip on rogue drivers from time to time,” he insisted.
Do police take action against auto drivers if you complain?