The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Taken for a ride
Organised chaos: Most cities have very few authorised lots to cater to the volume of cars; (superimposed) a fake MCD parking ticket

Amiya Chandra was stunned at what happened to him at one of Delhi’s authorised parking lots a few months ago. An additional commissioner with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Chandra — head of the cell that looks after roadside parking in the city — had nosed his car into a lot when the attendant walked up to him and handed over a parking slip. Being the master of what he surveyed, Chandra called the attendant’s bluff — he noticed that the slip was fake. “The contractor of the parking lot had printed it on his own and was making a quick buck behind the MCD’s back,” he says.

Once back in office, Chandra took action. Not just against that one contractor but against several others scattered around town who Delhi’s motorists thought were taking them for a ride even as their cars stood motionless in parking lots. “We booked them for fraud under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, fined them Rs 15,000 each and cancelled their licences,” says Chandra.

Action such as this, many would think, would effectively have put an end to the malpractice in the city’s parking lots. Well, not quite. Why would one still be required to pay Rs 10 as parking charges at several parking lots under the MCD’s jurisdiction, when the parking fee — as confirmed by the MCD itself — is only Rs 5 for the first two hours and Rs 2 for every subsequent hour' (See image of fake parking slip)

A multi-level parking lot in the heart of the city — under the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) — only takes the art of ripping off customers to a new level. A copy of the parking slip available with The Telegraph shows that cars entering the lot are sometimes categorised as two-wheelers. Motorists are nonetheless charged Rs 10 for four-wheelers — as per NDMC rates — when two-wheelers would be required to pay only half that amount. There’s no saying where the Rs 5 that is unaccounted for eventually goes.

Reporting the incident to the NDMC sees Anurag Goel, director, project department, assuring immediate action. “I’ll forward the complaint to the security department right away,” he says. Goel, however, doesn’t deny that stray reports of liberties taken by parking lot contractors have been reported to the NDMC in the past. “The NDMC has provisions in its contracts for cancellation of licence, in case contractors are found guilty of overcharging customers,” he confirms.

If you thought that Delhi is the only place where all this happens, think agin. In Calcutta, motorists are overcharged for parking and handed false receipts that are printed for the purpose. One motorist remembers being handed a Rs 7 bill for “stepping out for barely five minutes to withdraw money from the ATM” on Calcutta’s Russell Street. “It’s not the money. But the whole thing seems arbitrary. How do I know if what I’m being charged is the actual rate and if this is a legitimate receipt,” asks the motorist.

Those in charge of parking lots, however, categorically deny that there is any malpractice, at least as far as their lots are concerned. “We have identity cards, with our names and the names of our organisations printed on them,” says Nirmal Chandra Saha of the Park Street Fee Parking Cooperative Society Limited, which looks after parking on Russell Street as well. “We openly declare that our charges are Rs 7 per hour, regardless of whether you park for 60 seconds or 60 minutes.”

That’s not always true. “If you are parking your car in the same space on a different day or a different time of day, you may find that the amount you are asked to pay differs from what you were asked to pay earlier,” says Calcutta motorist A. Sengupta, who drives a Santro. “Usually, people don’t mind because the amount is not much (ranging from Rs 3 to Rs 10). But if you want to haggle a bit, just to verify, you can usually bring it down,” adds Sengupta.

Another common problem that relates to parking in cities is the issue of unauthorised parking lots operating within city limits. These are the outcome of the too few authorised lots in place to cater to the volume of cars each city has. In Delhi, NDMC operates about 125 lots and the MCD another 150. Many say they aren’t enough in a city, which has close to 12 lakh cars and about twice as many two-wheelers.

It’s a situation that often leaves motorists with no option but to park their vehicles on the roadside. And that’s when racketeers looking to make some fast cash swing into action, by masquerading as lot attendants for those desperately looking for parking space. In Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi, a youth who identifies himself as Nikhil, runs one such lot along a service lane a few metres off the main parking lots. “People who can’t find a place in the authorised parking lot leave their cars with me, since they feel that parking here would be a safer option than leaving their cars unattended,” he says.

Not surprisingly, lots such as Nikhil’s do end up finding takers, be it in Delhi or Calcutta. “As long as someone takes care of my car, I don’t really bother to check whether the lot is authorised or not,” says Calcutta motorist Dipali Chatterjee. Her views are echoed by another motorist while pulling out of a lot in the Nizamuddin area in Delhi. “At least, these guys don’t charge as much as the authorised lots do,” the motorist adds.

It would be wrong to say, though, that the authorities haven’t spotted the problem. “We are aware of the acute nature of the (parking) problem, and working out a solution is on top of our list of priorities,” says Jawed Shamin, deputy commissioner of police, traffic department, Calcutta Police. Goel, on his part, says the NDMC is soon setting up three multi-level parking lots in areas under their jurisdiction. Chandra adds to the tally, saying the MCD — which is equally concerned about parking woes — is setting up another 100 lots to ensure there is adequate authorised parking space in Delhi.

“In fact, some of these new lots will be at places where unauthorised lots earlier did business,” says Chandra. “We now want to make sure that motorists have enough place to park their vehicles without having to resort to conmen,” he adds.

But will all this put paid to the conmen who take motorists for a ride' That’s the big question to which there are no answers.

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