THIS February, an official conducting taxi driver Keshav Mishra’s test showed him a picture. “Gavati Murgi (Desi Chicken),” Mishra’s response was prompt. He was expected to identify the bird in the photograph correctly in Marathi, and Mishra, an Uttar Pradesh native who has lived in Mumbai for 16 years, didn’t have any trouble doing so. However, Mishra faltered at the last question, and ended up among the many candidates who failed to get an auto-taxi permit.
As Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray once again raises the issue of auto and cab drivers compulsorily knowing the local language, Mishra told The Indian Express he is now working as a salesman, having given up hope of being a cabbie.
The test Mishra took was made mandatory by the government last year for all those seeking auto-taxi permits.
In March, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court stopped the test.
“I was unable to comprehend the last question posed to me. Hence, I was not given a permit for driving a taxi in the city,” Mishra told The Indian Express.
The other questions asked, Mishra said, ranged from simple language questions to more complex ones on Maharashtra’s culture and history. “They asked me to read out a few lines from a Marathi book. Later, I was asked to name Shivaji Maharaj’s mother, to which I replied ‘Jijabai’. They also asked me to name a few traffic signages in Marathi. The questions were posed to me in Hindi, answers to which I had to deliver in Marathi,” Mishra said.
In a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis Wednesday, Raj Thackeray stirred the Marathi issue once more, to be met with immediate opposition from taxi unions, who called it a political stint before the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections in 2017.
“If the High Court has already given its order, we do not feel the need to give this issue any more importance.The stint may get the leader the attention of some Marathi voters, but won’t help the business of taxi or rickshaw drivers. If the government brings back any such compulsion, we will stage a protest,” said K K Tiwari, leader of the Swambhiman Taxi Rickshaw Union.
AL Quadros, another taxi union leader, said the state law calls for a basic knowledge of the city’s geography and language to quality for a permit. “However, initiating such tests serves no purpose. Instead, it denies drivers an opportunity to earn their income. The test led to more than 3,000 taxi and auto drivers not getting a permit, despite qualifying in the lottery,” Quadros said.
Other rickshaw union leaders also said that knowledge of Marathi must not be made an important factor while issuing taxi-auto permits.
“In Mumbai, the driver must at least have a basic knowledge of Marathi. His fluency in Marathi may not be as important as his understanding the language is,” said a Regional Transport Office (RTO) official.
The law also requires the drivers to have been residents of the state for at least 15 years to be able to avail a taxi-rickshaw permit.
“So disappointed was I after failing the test, that I opted to take up a salesman’s job. Though not born in Mumbai, I know the roads of the city as well as any other Mumbaikar,” Mishra said.