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More rickshaws could spell more trouble

Monday, March 10, 2014

Around 12,000 new rickshaw permits will be allotted in the western suburbs and 8,000 for eastern suburbs but they may only add to the confusion, writes Gajanan Khergamker

Mumbai’s Regional Transport Office (RTO) is planning to give out the first batch of letters of intent to 1,000-odd new auto-rickshaws in the suburbs soon.
The transport department had recently conducted an online lottery for the auto permits. Of 1.52 lakh applications, 60,700 were declared winners across the state and 20,000 permits were earmarked for the city suburbs.

Around 12,000 new permits will be allotted in the western suburbs and 8,000 will be for eastern suburbs. From April, the city could well have a host of new autos. “We have a three-tier scrutiny mechanism. Original documents will be verified by clerks, inspectors and assistant RTOs,” regional transport officer (Andheri) P G Bhalerao reportedly said.

That said, there have been reports of many permit applicants that have applied for transport department’s first lottery system for auto rickshaw permits only so that they can illegally rent out the autos to others.

It has been reported that, a majority of applicants are not genuine drivers and that the educational qualification criteria is prohibiting genuine auto-drivers from seeking permit.

One of the clauses for qualifying for a permit was that the driver needs to have passed the SSC examination.

This, however, did not go down well with drivers as many who have been in the profession for years now would be left out. The permit can be legally transferred to another person through RTO by paying a fee of Rs 25, 000.

Many applicants have already approached the RTO for permit transfers. But, apparently, there are still those who are planning on renting out permits at a hefty cost, illegally. 

This online lottery process for application of permits was started because the State government wanted to revive 30 per cent of expired auto rickshaw permits wherein, those aged 20 and above, and residing in the state for 15 years without a break, were eligible to bid.

Although a good move, the state has to be ready to tackle new problems that come associated with this. The city already has a lot on its plate with thousands of rickshaw drivers, with illegal permits plying in the city.

With the news of such “illegally rented-out permits” doing the rounds, there is a chance that sooner or later, the number of drivers with illegal permit will end up becoming a menace and the problem will become hard to tackle at a later stage.

An RTI application filed recently has revealed that more than 40,000 auto rickshaws in the Thane RTO jurisdiction are operating without any valid permits in the city.

An RTI application by Thane resident Anil Mahadik, has revealed that there are 76,993 auto rickshaws registered with the Thane RTO, of which just about 36,887 of them have valid permits to ferry passengers.

The RTO supervises the area of three municipal corporations including Thane, Mira-Bhayander and Bhiwandi besides the rural pockets of Jawahar and Mokhada.

What this means is that there are 40,000 auto rickshaws registered as private vehicles with the RTO yet ply around the city ferrying passenger throughout. And, the RTOs haven’t been able to do anything to bring in check. This is not only robbing the state of its lawful dues but  is also highly dangerous.

The state government had, after seeing the rising number of illegal auto-rickshaws in Nagpur, expressed shock and ordered an inquiry against the RTO chief. Thane too will have to adopt measures to either curb the number of illegal auto rickshaws to end this menace soon.

With illegal auto-rickshaws plying on the streets and reports of illegal transfer of permits already in the news before the new permits are even handed out to the drivers, it’s the commuters who will have to finally bear the brunt of it all.

Auto and taxi drivers are already known for their rude behaviour and notorious refuto ply passengers.

A report, that came out in January suggested that more and more rickshaws are refusing to ply passengers, more than they did in January last year.

According to the report, in January 2013, the traffic police had booked in all 286 autorickshaw and taxi drivers for refusing to ply passengers in the suburbs.
Comparatively, this January, the number of such cases jumped nearly five times to 1,521-668 in the east region, 591 in west region and 262 in north region.
The traffic police, while taking the credit for booking those drivers refusing to ply passenger, attributed the rise in detection of fare refusal cases to a dedicated team - six male constables, three female constables and one supervising officer - assigned at every chowky.

“We started awareness drives from the beginning of the year and appealed to citizens to complain to the traffic control room (24937755) or RTO helpline (1800220110) if a cabbie or auto driver refuses to ply him. Besides, a team was formed in every chowky to crack down on such cases,” DCP (traffic) Pratap Dighavkar reportedly said.

However, even with the dedicated team, the problem has not abated. Activists and commuters doubt the efficiency of these helpline numbers and questioned as to how efficiently are the helplines monitored by the authorities. So, our problem is three-fold: There are rickshaws registered as private vehicles and drivers plying without legal permits and those who ply passengers according to their whim.

Looking at the way things are going, the new slew of auto-rickshaws won’t be of much help to commuters who are anyways caught between frying pan and fire.

(With inputs from Prerna Pandey)

Readers keen on seeking help on drafting RTI applications may write in to rti@draftcraft.in or call Gajanan Khergamker on 022-22841593 for any assistance on RTI or to have their findings / issue featured on this page

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