Vilas Indulkar, an auto driver from Goregaon, was able to purchase the most basic medicines for his wife, a diabetic, for April. Only four months ago, Indulkar (51) had purchased an autorickshaw and had hoped that his financial problems would be solved. Out of work since March 24, when the coronavirus-induced lockdown was imposed, he says, monthly installments for his vehicle loan and rents were now piling.
“When farmers are affected, they at least get some relief from the government. But there is really no one for us,” Indulkar said.
Rajman Yadav (51), an autorickshaw driver from Nalasopara, has been living off Rs 4,000 he had managed to borrow from a friend. “I am yet to pay house rent, electricity and water bills… Now, getting financial help from friends and acquaintances has become tough. With no income, everyone is in the same boat,” Yadav said.
Highlighting the growing desperation among the auto drivers in the city, who are left with no earnings, or prospects of it, since the lockdown was imposed, several auto unions have approached the state transport minister, Anil Parab, and urged him to rope in major players in the business, including Bajaj Auto Limited and Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL), to extend financial aid to the 2.3 lakh auto drivers in the city.
The unions have urged that a committee, headed by the state transport commissioner, be formed to overview the welfare of auto drivers in the city. They have also demanded that financial aid be extended to the drivers through a network of Regional Transport Offices (RTO) across the city if the lockdown was further extended.
“Bajaj Auto Limited, its insurance arm Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co Ltd and Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) should help the auto drivers out in this time of crisis,” Thampy Kurian, who heads the Mumbai Rickshawmen’s Union, said.
Every driver, he added, pays roughly Rs 16,000 for their permit to the state government. “The drivers have a hand-to-mouth existence and are now struggling to get supplies… They will be compelled to follow the footsteps of migrant workers and take to the streets if no assistance is provided,” Kurian said.
Blaming the government for not paying heed to their long-pending demand for a welfare board for autorickshaw drivers, autorickshaw union leader Shashank Rao said, “Had the government created the board, we would have had the exact numbers of drivers who need financial aid and the money could be directly disbursed from the funds in the board among the drivers.”
When contacted, Parab said, “I’m already in talks with various companies including those undertaking insurance as well as manufacturing companies like Bajaj Auto for some aid for the (autorickshaw) drivers.” Bajaj Auto Limited, however, refused to comment on the issue.
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