Protesters stop an autorickshaw midway and (below) force out a private car driver at Master Canteen Square in Bhubaneswar on Thursday. Pictures by Ashwinee Pati
Bhubaneswar, May 5: The city was already burning at 43.5 degrees Celsius and to make things worse, autorickshaws and private taxis stayed off roads today to protest against the entry of private public transport operators, such as Ola, Uber and Jugnu.
The dawn-to-dusk strike, which was observed in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri, was called off in the afternoon after state transport minister Ramesh Majhi met the agitators and assured them of appropriate action. The impact of the strike was felt almost everywhere as many people got stranded at the railway station and Baramunda bus stand in Bhubaneswar.
"The strike remained by and large peaceful, except a few incidents of violence in Bhubaneswar. We have detained four protesters," said deputy commissioner of police Satyabrata Bhoi.
Several autorickshaw and taxi operators' associations supported the strike with around 1.5 lakh three-wheelers and 25,000 private taxis staying off the roads. Tension prevailed in some parts of the capital city after the agitators damaged some taxis of private operators. The strike supporters were seen puncturing and deflating the tyres of two-wheelers and four-wheelers plying on the roads.
"I reached the station in the morning, but could not find an autorickshaw to reach Sailashree Vihar. Though I searched for a cab, not a single private car agreed to ply. I also tried to book a cab online, but failed. I was forced to wait for around two hours and finally called one of my relatives to take me home," said city resident Anurag Mohapatra.
The agitators took out a rally from Master Canteen Square here and staged demonstrations and picketing in various parts of the city.
The protesters alleged that big players in the sector, such as Uber, Ola and Jugnu, had already eaten into their business. While Jugnu has a fleet of 200 autorickshaws, Uber and Ola are operating with 100 each in Bhubaneswar and are exploring the possibility of entering the market in a bigger way.
The prevailing heatwave condition added to the ordeal of the passengers who were found stranded at various major traffic squares in the city, especially at Baramunda bus terminal.
"The sun was blazing and it was impossible to stand at the terminus. Despite frequent attempts to get an autorickshaw, I did not find one. I was then forced to walk around two kilometres in the heat," said Santoshi Moharana, a passenger.
Bhubaneswar today recorded the highest temperature in the state
General secretary of Bhubaneswar Autorickshaw Mahasangha Padman Kumar Samal said operation of the private players had already started hitting the business of other three-wheelers in the city.
"The government fare of pre-paid autorickshaws for a distance of six kilometres is Rs 90, but the private operators are charging half the price. They are deliberately incurring loss to capture the market," alleged Samal.
Sources in the transport department said that the demands and proposals of the autorickshaw association have been sent to the technical committee headed by transport commissioner for evaluation.
On the other hand, general manager of Uber East Ashwin Dias condemned the violence by the agitators to intimidate the drivers and partners of the cab service. "Local authorities are aware of these incidents and we are working with them to ensure safety of our riders and drivers," Dias said.