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Auto stir hits coal town hard

Dhanbad commuters were a harried lot on Thursday when more than 7,000 autos, a hugely popular mode of transport used by thousands everyday, went off the roads in protest against the administration’s failure to roll back the exorbitant hike in charges for obtaining permits.

The auto drivers, who are agitating under the banner of Jharkhand Parivahan Mazdoor Union against the increase in quarterly application fee for getting temporary permits from Rs 50 to Rs 300, had earlier announced the strike. But very few people seemed to be aware of it.

The 20 city buses running from Dhanbad to different places proved inadequate for the large number of passengers waiting at various junctions. Those travelling on the Jharia-Dhanbad route were the worst hit and were forced to either hail taxis or ask for lifts in private vehicles.

“I reached the court barely five minutes before a crucial hearing of my case as I was not aware about the strike and left home around the usual time at 10.30am. I had to wait at the Jharia stop for more than hour as there was not a single auto on the route. Finally, I hitched a ride on a motorcycle around noon,” Vikash Kumar, a lawyer of Dhanbad court, said.

Passengers arriving at Dhanbad station were also caught unawares. Most had a hard time reaching their destinations with luggage in tow.

“I arrived from Patna at 6am and didn’t get any auto at the station. I had to hire a reserved taxi and spent Rs 200 to reach my home. An auto ride would have cost me a mere Rs 8,” rued Deepak Kumar of Jharia.

However, Sunil Paswan, secretary of Jharkhand Parivahan Mazdoor Union that is also seeking designated stops at different chowks, curbs on using private autos for patrolling duty by police, pension and health insurance schemes for auto drivers, justified the strike.

“From September 1, the quarterly application fee for temporary permits for auto-rickshaws was suddenly increased from Rs 50 to Rs 300 without any logic. We had agitated in October, demanding a rollback, but the administration turned down our plea. This apart, police take away our vehicles for carrying out patrolling in different areas. This should be immediately stopped,” Paswan said.

When contacted, district transport officer Ravi Raj Sharma said his hands were tied as the order came from the state headquarters. “The driving licence fee for auto drivers, which was raised from Rs 150 to Rs 750, was eventually scaled down to Rs 450. But the higher-ups refused to roll back the hike in application fee for permits,” he added.

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