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‘Don’t need licence?’

He wears shades even after dusk. He loves speed. His licence was seized when he hit someone in his native state and never got it back. He is now an autorickshaw driver in Calcutta.

“Why do you need a licence?” says the 25-year-old young man from Chhapra in Bihar.

On the Garia-Golpark route, there are many like him, ferrying people on their autos without the need for a driving licence. Metro hitched a ride on one of the autos on this route to find out where the bravado comes from.

When I came from Bihar in January last year, I did not have a driving licence. It was seized after I had had an accident.

The friend who brought me to Calcutta assured me that the lack of a driving licence would not be a problem in this city and I soon found it to be true.

A man at the union office told me that for Rs 500 a month, I would be allowed to drive an auto on the Garia-Golpark route. For another Rs 800 per month, he promised to ensure no policeman booked me for driving without a licence. I readily agreed.

The rule is that we cannot exceed or bypass our route, or even do break journeys. But provided we pay the right people, we can do even that.

I pay Rs 500 to sergeant X (name withheld) a month when I ferry passengers through the lanes of Jodhpur Park and Rs 200 to sub-inspector Y (name withheld) of Sonarpur police station. Last month, I was taking four schoolchildren through Jodhpur Park when a young sergeant caught me. I told him ***babu’s name but he refused to let me go. Most probably he had just joined the department. I immediately called up ***babu and he not only let me go but also rebuked the sergeant.

A baatchit (payment in auto-driver parlance) of Rs 25 a day allows me to break my route at will. I generally break the route in three halves — from Garia to Baghajatin, Baghajatin to Jadavpur and Jadavpur to Golpark. I earn Rs 7 from a passenger if he travels from Garia to Jadavpur. If I break the journey into parts, I earn Rs 10.

We also pay a regular fee of Rs 3 a day to the union office. With this money, they ensure that the owners of the autos cannot act against us even if we pay them less or do not turn up for work every day.

The union leaders are of great help when one wants a new route permit. I know of a person who paid Rs 4 lakh to the union office to get a forged permit. The permit even has the official seal of the PVD (public vehicles department).

To be inducted into the new route, the auto owner will again either have to pay another Rs 25,000 to the union leaders or choose a driver recommended by them. The deal in this case is that if the auto runs seven days a week, the owner will get the earnings for six days while the seventh day’s profit is for the union. This deal is for two years.

Over the past year, I have grown close to some of the union members since I pay my dues on time. They have bailed me out on two occasions.

Last Durga Puja, I punched a man because he had been insisting that I proceed with one passenger less. On another occasion, I was rescued after being caught by a cop for carrying five passengers around 10pm.

Now I don’t fear the cops or passengers who threaten to take me to the police station.