The Telegraph
Thursday , February 28 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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On warpath over meters

Feb. 27: Autorickshaw drivers in the city decided today to launch a series of agitation programmes, demanding revision of fares.

The drivers will stage a dharna in front of the Kamrup deputy commissioner’s office on March 5 and gherao the office of the district transport officer on March 11. They took the decisions at a meeting at the Rangali Bihu Sanmilan field in Rukmininagar.

They also demanded an end to harassment of drivers in the name of installing fare meters, increase in the number of meter repairing centres and city permits for autos.

The auto drivers vowed to gherao the DTO office tomorrow, if the transport department launches a crackdown for not using fare meters. Recently, the department decided to seize autos, which have not installed fare meters.

“If the transport department seizes autos tomorrow, inform your friends over mobile phone and rush directly to gherao the DTO office,” said Naren Pathak, secretary of the union, told a gathering of auto drivers.

In a recent meeting with Kamrup district unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the auto unions agreed to use meters provided the district administration determines a “reasonable” fare. Earlier, the administration had proposed a fare, which was rejectedby drivers, as it would bring down their income drastically.

“In other cities, where autos use natural gas as fuel, the cost per kilometre is around Rs 1.50 but it is Rs 4.75 per litre of petrol here. Hence, it is difficult to run autos at the rate of Rs 9.50 per kilometre as proposed by the district administration,” Tapan Sarma, secretary of Kamrup district unit of Citu, who participated in the meeting, said.

Sarma advised auto drivers not to go to court and said if the issue became sub-judice, they would not be able to organise protest programmes.

The auto drivers also talked about the effect of price rise of essential commodities and fuel over the last decade. “Ask the district administration how many times the price of petrol has increased since 2002. The price of rice has become Rs 30 per kg. We do not want a luxurious life but we just want to be able to provide for our families,” said Pathak.

Over 200 auto drivers, who took part in the meeting showed their consent to union leaders from time to time, even as one got excited and started shouting, “Tell the district administration how much fuel we burn while getting stuck in traffic snarls.”

Kailash Talukdar, a driver, said he earns Rs 400 to Rs 500 daily but if the proposed fare rate came into effect, he would not be able to recover the fuel costs.

Kamrup deputy commissioner and chairman of the Regional Transport Authority, Ashutosh Agnihotri, recently told this newspaper that the administration would not give in to any unreasonable demand or agitation of auto drivers but only look into their genuine grievances.