A crammed auto-rickshaw plies on Kutchery Road in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Over 20,000 commuters, who depend on autos to travel within the state capital and its outskirts, were left in the lurch in the blistering heat on Monday as the diesel-powered fleet went off roads in protest against what they called illegal collection of parking fee.
Of the total 6,000 diesel-run autos in Ranchi — 2,300 of them have permits while the rest ply illegally — only, 1,000 were available on the streets while the remaining operators chose to join the indefinite strike under the aegis of Jharkhand Pradesh Diesel Autochalak Mahasangh.
According to the protesters, Ranchi Municipal Corporation (RMC) agents, deputed at specific auto stands to collect parking fees from three-wheelers, arbitrarily charge money from drivers crossing the particular area. President of Jharkhand Pradesh Diesel Autochalak Mahasangh Dinesh Soni said the agents had been carrying on the malpractice for a long time.
“One is supposed to collect parking fee from an auto only when it stops at the stand to drop or lift passengers. But agents appointed by RMC to collect parking fee do not spare those merely crossing the roads near the designated auto stands. This is not legal and puts unnecessary monetary pressure on auto drivers as they end up paying Rs 60 to 100 as parking fee every day,” he said.
Several auto drivers like Rajesh Kumar supported him.
“This illegal practice has to stop. Today (Monday), around 1,000 diesel-run autos are running on the roads, while the usual count is 6,000. The auto drivers who have not joined our strike have close ties either with the RMC agents or the district administration. But poor people like us have no option but to protest,” Kumar added.
The actual parking fee varies from Rs 10 to Rs 30 depending on the area.
Chief executive officer of RMC Manoj Kumar, however, said that none of the auto drivers had earlier complained about the so-called illegal collection of parking fee.
“They called the strike all of a sudden, saying that parking fee was being illegally taken from them and expressed their desire to run all the stands across the city on their own,” he said.
“Everything is in the knowledge of district administration, but the agents are hand in glove with RMC officials. They were informed about the strike a week back,” Soni shot back.
As the auto outfit and the civic guardian remained locked in a war of words, stranded commuters suffered and sweated on the roads. Although 1,500 petrol-run autos plied, the number was too less compared to commuter count.
Sumit Shaw (35), who had come to the city for treatment of his two-year-old niece, was among the harried passengers. The resident of Jhalda, Bengal, and four family members, including the child, wanted to go to Ranchi station to catch a train back to Jhalda, but found no auto.
After waiting in the sun for an hour, he got hold of a petrol-run auto that charged him Rs 150 while the normal fare is just Rs 32.
“I knew that the autowala was fleecing us, but we had no choice. How long would we have waited for a vehicle? The district administration should look into the problem immediately,” a disgusted Shaw said.