It is the familiar tale of One Thousand and One Nights where bride Scheherazade would narrate a tale to king Shahryar every night to get her execution postponed.
In the city, auto drivers have adopted a similar stalling strategy each time the district administration gears up to install fare meters in the vehicles — for months and years and decades.
Ashutosh Agnihotri, chairman of the regional transport authority (RTA) and deputy commissioner of Kamrup, is at the helm of affairs now.
Here are his replies to some queries from our reporter Rajiv Konwar through email.
TT: For years autos in Guwahati have been charging excessive fares from residents. There have been demands from residents to install fare meters in autos. But nothing has happened so far. When will people see fare meters in autos?
Agnihotri: It is extremely unfortunate that the autos have been running without meters. It is mandatory for them to have fare meters and it is the right of the commuter to know how much he or she is being charged and on what basis.
The RTA has made it mandatory for autos to have fare meters and we shall enforce it soon.
TT: Every time the district administration tries to install fare meters in autos it faces protests from their unions, so much so that the administration finally gives in. It has been the scenario for decades. Is it that the auto unions are too strong for the administration to handle?
Agnihotri: The administration shall not give in to any unreasonable demand or agitation. I fail to understand why the auto owners oppose transparency and accountability. The administration wants public interests to be protected at all costs.
TT: One of the reasons auto drivers cite while rejecting meters is the “low fare” fixed by the state government. What do you say about this?
Agnihotri: As far as I know, the rates are comparable or higher than those prevalent in other cities. However, if there is any discrepancy, it can always be addressed. Any genuine grievance will be considered.
TT: Auto drivers also complain that there is no shop in Guwahati which can supply fare meters quickly and at a reasonable price. They also complain that the city does not have facilities to repair damaged meters. What do you say?
Agnihotri: Repairing of meters does not require or entail use of complex technology. It will be extremely easy and simple and the shops will come up independently. Meters should be installed as any other part of the auto and should be repaired in the same manner. This cannot be an excuse for non-installation.
TT: How will you go ahead to solve the issue?
Agnihotri: I urge the auto owners to comply with the RTA directive. I don’t want them to become jobless. Non-compliance will result in cancellation of permits. There are various alternatives available like shared taxis, which may be encouraged. The public cannot be made to suffer just because a group of people wants to remain obstinate about its unreasonable and illegal demands. I am sure that the auto owners will understand the public sentiment and co-operate, keeping in mind public and self interest.