Autorickshaw drivers are facing a crisis as the government has failed to provide the financial support it had promised.
“We have to feed ourselves, take care of our families, and maintain our autos. What government are you talking about; we are our own government,” remarked Lokesh H, an autorickshaw driver.
The drivers are unhappy with the government’s attitude towards them. On March 3, they took out a rally from the Majestic railway station to Freedom Park in protest against rising fuel prices, traffic fines and the government’s lack of will to help them.
“We did not get anything from the government, not even the promised Rs 5,000,” Lokesh added.
In December 2020, the Karnataka government announced that a one-time amount of Rs 5,000 would be given to autorickshaw drivers as compensation for the losses they had incurred during the lockdown. The government opened a registration portal for them. They were asked to furnish Aadhaar card, a passport-size photo, registered transport driver proof, residence certificate, vehicle registration certificate, driving licence and voter ID card while registration.
Even autorickshaw drivers registered with the transport department have not received any assistance. Autorickshaw driver Aslam Pasha said: “I applied for the compensation. I submitted all my documents. Still, I have not got any money. The lockdown was difficult. I had to face huge losses. I had to pay an insurance premium, as also money for my auto’s maintenance. I received a message on the completion of the filing process but not the money.”
Prakash M.V., another driver said: “We have received absolutely nothing from the government. It did not give us enough support. Our business is down by more than 60%.”
B.B. Raghavendra, a member of the Federation of Auto Drivers in Karnataka, said the increase in fuel prices and traffic violation fines have added to the drivers’ financial burden.
Leslie Carvalho, a commuter, said: “Fuel prices have shot up, so their reason to feel distressed is justified. They should also be ready to adjust the fare when things normalize as this will burn a hole in our pockets. If they increase fares, maybe people will start walking and it will be good for their health. I would rather walk if it’s a short distance.”
Swathi Pramod, another commuter, said: “If it (the fare hike) is very high, it will be problematic for us; but if it’s reasonable, then it would help the auto drivers and not burden on us.”
S. Natarajan, assistant superintendent of traffic police of the Ashok Nagar station, said: “Only 50% of the autorickshaw drivers are correct; rest of them lie. I have never heard of police brutality against them. They ask for extra money. They do not turn on their meters, and if they do, they tamper with them.”
Last-mile connectivity is a huge issue in Bengaluru as most places are still unconnected by Metro. The problem could worsen if the drivers decide to hike fares.