Passengers try to board an overcrowded city bus in Ranchi during Friday’s auto strike. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Rukaiya Kahtoo, a village health worker, left home in Nagri to attend government training in Pithoria. Though the programme was scheduled at 10am, Rukaiya and 10 of her colleagues were seen squatting on the footpath behind Raj Bhavan even at 12.30pm. Reason: there were no auto-rickshaws to take them to their destination some 15km away
Sanjana Kumari, a student of English at St Xavier’s College, had classes to attend from 2.15pm. She started from her Harmu home two hours early and walked to college
Businessman Manoj Sahu started from home to meet a customer in Hatia. He walked 2km to Argora Chowk for an auto-rickshaw, but in vain. After almost an hour’s wait, he walked back home and rode out in his bike
The three were among hundreds and thousands of daily Ranchi commuters who were largely inconvenienced as 9,000 diesel auto-rickshaws stayed off the capital’s roads on Friday, the first day of an indefinite strike over some half a dozen issues that police claim are unjustified.
President of Jharkhand Diesel Autochalak Mahasangh Dinesh Soni claimed that the regional transport authorities had issued permits to only 2,335 vehicles, asking the others to ply outside town, where passenger possibility was limited. “Each and every auto should be given city permit because they have been plying here for years,” he insisted.
Among the Mahasangh’s other demands are batch numbers for all drivers, check on the practice of seeking bribe for permits, cancellation of a parking agreement with a private agency that charges even running vehicles and demarcation of parking zones for diesel auto-rickshaws.
As the three-wheeled public transport lifeline remained snapped, the 65-odd city buses were packed beyond capacity.
“The seating capacity of a city bus is 30 or so. But, there were more than 60 passengers crammed in. People were being carried like cattle. I too had no option other than squeezing into one of these overcrowded buses to reach Kantatoli Chowk from Ratu Road,” said Urmila Singh, who teaches at a government school.
Desperate times always generate unscrupulous business. Some cars were seen ferrying stranded commuters for extra bucks. “The auto fare to Kanke Chowk from Kanke More is Rs 10, but I paid Rs 20 to this shuttle car driver,” said Suman Gari, a helpless passenger of a private van.
Deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey expressed concern over the pressure tactics being employed by the auto-rickshaw association.
“The demands are unjust. Permit is given to a limited number of auto-rickshaws to avoid congestion on city roads. Also, a case on this issue is pending in Jharkhand High Court. When the matter is sub judice, how can the district administration take a decision?” he said.
In a nutshell, commuting will remain a nightmare for Ranchi residents in days to come.
Do you think the authorities should have foiled the strike?