When 38-year-old Sanjay Verma, who had spent 12 years driving an auto on rent, received a letter of intent from the transport department on December 23 last year, he bought sweets for the neighbourhood. For, the letter of intent meant he could officially drive an auto in the capital.
This also meant he would have to work a tad harder to pay monthly installments, but would come home with his own vehicle every night.
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His faith in the Aam Aadmi Party, which he had backed with posters on his rented auto, was reinstated. But his happiness was short-lived — three days later, when he went to buy a new auto, the dealer told him the approvals had been scrapped.
The same day, Dharam Singh, 47, who had given up his job at a private firm in Bawana, also rushed to the dealer, his letter of intent tucked in an envelope. He made a down payment of Rs 50,000 and rode back home with a new auto. Three days later, when he heard of the government’s decision to call off the approvals, citing discrepancy in allotments, he was shocked.
Verma and Singh were among 932 auto drivers who had received their letters of intent. Even as the AAP government called off the allotments, no solution was offered to the 324 auto drivers who had already purchased autos. Many of them told The Indian Express that their new autos have been gathering dust in sheds at home, or have been returned to dealers but the down payment is yet to be retrieved.
“I kept it at home for a few months but these things depreciate and it had become unfeasible for me to pay an extra parking fee just to keep it. I had an odd job at a private firm and had given it up hoping to do my own thing. Since I was jobless, I bought an auto on the first day,” said Singh, a migrant from Bhind in Madhya Pradesh.
Verma had canvassed for the AAP government like hundreds of other auto drivers. “I even got a challan for putting up a Jagdish Mukhi vs Kejriwal poster and paid out of my own pocket for it… I pay a daily rent of Rs 400 to the auto owner, and even on days when I work really hard, I manage to make only Rs 300 or so,” he said.
Verma and many other affected drivers approached the High Court for relief earlier this year — the next court hearing is December 7.
Meanwhile, the Yogendra Yadav-led political party Swaraj India is likely to run a campaign seeking justice for them.
“The allotments were part of the new permits to be issued to 10,000 auto drivers in keeping with a Supreme Court judgment. The AAP government might have wanted to get corruption charges in the allotment checked, but it should have thought about drivers,” said Sushil Kumar, the petitioners’ counsel. “The next hearing could be conclusive but the AAP government, which was supposed to submit its reply by November 3, is yet to do so.”
Anupam, national spokesperson of Swaraj India, said, “The auto drivers have been in touch with Swaraj India. We find it unfortunate that AAP, which rode to power in auto rickshaws, has turned so insensitive to their plight. We are planning to take this up strongly.”
Transport Commissioner Sandeep Kumar refused to comment on the issue, while Transport Minister Satyendar Jain did not respond to repeated calls.