A section of autorickshaw drivers made it clear on Wednesday that any effort to force them to roll back fares could backfire, sending signals to transport minister Madan Mitra and the establishment that “disciplining” autos may be easier said than done.
The counter-warning came a day before a convention of auto drivers called by the Trinamul’s trade union wing.
“If the leaders start talking about rolling back auto fares, we would stand up and leave the convention centre,” a senior leader of the auto union on the BK Pal Road-Maniktala route said. “Since LPG price has gone up by Rs 12 a litre, how do we survive if the fares are not hiked. What do we tell our members?”
The government has time and again rejected a similar logic offered by bus operators demanding fare revision.
But unlike buses, autorickshaws decide their own rules despite transport minister Mitra’s promise to rein in rogue autos by January 7.
Auto drivers have threatened to seek more leeway instead of agreeing to fall in line at Thursday’s convention. “A rollback would be accepted if the government agrees to allow us to ferry two passengers in the front seat (along with the driver),” a leader said.
Autos across the city have already hiked fares and started carrying an additional passenger, though the rules say there cannot be more than three in the rear and one in the front besides the driver.
“Given the existing price of LPG, we want our government to clear the proposal of carrying an extra passenger,” said Gopal Sutar, general secretary of the INTTUC-led south Calcutta auto operators’ union. “Allow us five passengers, we will bring down the fare.”
The BK Pal Road-Maniktala stretch is among countless routes where fares have jumped overnight following the hike in LPG price, the fuel for autos.
During the bus strike on January 6, autos made a killing on some routes. Complaints of “double fare” even reached chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was in West Midnapore’s Amlashole.
Mitra has apparently convened the meeting after a push from the chief minister. “No auto operator should dare to take a passenger for a ride simply because he has decided to ride the vehicle. I will be attending the convention to announce the government’s stand, not as an INTTUC (Trinamul trade union) leader,” he said on Wednesday.
Union leaders said some auto drivers have gone “beyond our control”.