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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chennai autos .............. and the missing meter !!

A trip to Chennai would never be complete without an encounter with them……… the ubiquitous three-wheelers painted yellow and called ‘auto-rickshaws’.  In the city so well connected by road, rail, sea and air.  - a drive  in this [the peculiar sitting posture of the driver, the cuts and turn-arounds of the vehicle – its capacity to turn at right angles and wade through milling crowds], the language of its drivers, the missing meters and the bargain – can all force mortal fear in you no ends. 

It is popular in Cine lore ….. ‘Auto driver’ directed by Suresh Krishna had Akkineni Nagarjuna on the driver sear.  Vijay played autokaran in Vettaikaran. Arya drove auto in Oram Po.  In the Ajit starrer ‘Attahasam’ – Karuna’s auto being pulled from back by Ajit – in the end Ajit stopping an oncoming auto, adjusting  its mirror, then starting the vehicle was a big hit ………. in the super hit ‘Basha’ – Manikkam (Rajinikanth) is a humble auto driver who helps the needy. He also keeps away from unnecessary fights and quarrels. His ambition is to bring up his brother and sisters with flying colours ~ he has a past ….that was ‘Basha – Manik basha’.

For sometime, Chennai breathed easy …. City autos indeed had meter, strict measures by Police ensured its implementation as those plying without meters were fined …….all were too good to last, and perhaps we are now back to the days of old…. Slowly it became  increasingly difficult to find an autowalah who would charge according to meter, though the fare now for first 1.8 kilometres is Rs. 25 and for every additional kilometre is Rs.12. In this brief honeymoon, delighted Chennaites found how much they had actually been paying extra, when they had to go important places like Egmore or Central …. There was the Supreme Court directive coupled with State Govt initiative, still things are not in place !

Now there is news of Police crackdown on errant auto drivers keeping them on their toes.  TOI reported that Police inspected 2000 autos and booked 300 drivers for various offences including refusal to ply by meter and overcharging.  Only a sustained and strong campaign may be able to make autorickshaws in the city ply by the meter, the latest round of crackdown that began on Monday indicates.  For minor offences the fine was lower, while it went up to Rs.2500/- according to the report.

As the city traffic police and transport department resumed the operation after three months, some drivers argued, some resisted, many meekly paid the fine and apologised. Drivers were still hoping that the campaign would fizzle out after a few weeks. If it is sustained, some drivers said, they would have no option but to fall in line. Some seethed in anger when stopped for inspection. Some blamed share autos for eating into their business. Sources said 24 teams comprising 62 traffic inspectors and 33 RTO brake inspectors were part of the drive. The officials are said to have even identified lands in different parts of the city to station the seized vehicles.  The CITU reportedly is planning to stage a protest on Nov 27 against the drive.  According to some activists – there is cost in everything from the purchase of vehicle, Permit, FC, Insurance, fuel, driver cost and the like……….whether the meter rate is still not sufficient is the Q.   

Another report in TOI mentions of a nasty incident when a mob of autorickshaw drivers attacked a man around 40 years old for a comment to a television news channel near Royapettah General Hospital on Tuesday morning, creating a chaotic scene and halting traffic for at least 20 minutes. A reporter with Tamil TV channel Kalaignar TV was asking members of the public about the transport department and police launching a crackdown on autorickshaw drivers who refuse to ply by the meter, when the unidentified man halted his motorcycle and said. ‘Autorickshaw drivers in the city are corrupt.’ Enraged by the comment, auto drivers who were waiting for customers in the vicinity and others passing by quickly surrounded the man and one of them slapped him, a traffic police officer said.“There were around 50 auto drivers in the mob and they went berserk. The violence held up traffic for 20 minutes,“ he said.

Auto drivers have reacted to the clampdown with anger and defiance. More than 100 drivers held a protest against being penalised at the police commissioner's office in Egmore. A senior traffic official said the crackdown will continue.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

20th Nov. 2014.

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