Calling the Supreme Court’s ban on diesel taxis in Delhi and NCR a rushed decision, over 500 diesel cab drivers — both private and those operating through vendors — blocked both carriageways of the NH-8 at the Rajokri Border between Delhi and Gurgaon on Monday.
The protest, which began at 7.30 am and ended at about 2.30 pm, threw traffic out of gear for thousands of commuters. It also led to massive traffic snarls which extended all the way to Ring Road, Kapashera, Mehrauli and Dhaula Kuan.
With people taking alternative routes, several stretches, including Lala Lajpat Rai Marg, Defence Colony and Mathura Road, were also clogged within an hour, said officials.
Massive traffic jam near Delhi’s Ashram chowk as taxi drivers protest demanding ban on diesel vehicles be revoked pic.twitter.com/kVcUc7ayFI
— ANI (@ANI_news) May 2, 2016
Diesel taxi drivers hold protest near Ashram chowk in Delhi, demand ban on diesel vehicles be revoked pic.twitter.com/nypdltTH4r
— ANI (@ANI_news) May 2, 2016
The protesters also included diesel cab drivers with all India tourist permits (AITP), who are exempted from the ban provided they ply outside NCR.
Ravender Gupta, who owns a cab service, said, “When I bought the cab, they gave me an All India Permit. No one told me that Delhi/NCR area would be excluded from the permit.”
Meanwhile, over 500 cab drivers and owners who run diesel vehicles on AITPs held a demonstration at Ashram Chowk Monday morning.
They alleged that traffic police have been “harassing them and issuing challans”. Some of them added that the order banning vehicles from travelling point-to-point in the city is “absurd”. Even for intercity trips, drivers said they “may have to stop at other points in NCR on the way, and often drop passengers back home at the end of the day”.
“Our aim is to draw the attention of people to the unfair enforcement… We want to tell them that the government we have elected is not working for the people. They are stopping us from operating our vehicles but are allowing more influential people like big lawyers and ministers to roam around in diesel vehicles,” said Sanjay Samrat, President of the Delhi Taxi Tourist Transporters and Tour Operator Association.
A major concern for diesel cab owners is the cost involved in converting their taxis into CNG. “We started converting to diesel 15 years ago as it was cost-effective. Now, switching to CNG would mean changing the entire engine. How will cars such as an Innova or a Xylo run on CNG? Also, changing the engine from diesel to CNG will be like buying a new car. We are still paying off loans on our existing cars,” said Kamaljeet Singh, a cab driver.
Suraj Ved, General Secretary of the Delhi Tourist Taxi and Citizen Welfare Association seconded this opinion. “There is a very real fear amongst cab operators and drivers because of this order. How will we repay our loans to banks, or pay school fees of our children?… We will continue our protests and demonstrations until someone gives us reassurance in writing,” he said.
Sources in the Gurgaon regional transport department added that there are no set procedures under which converted CNG vehicles can be recognised under the Motor Vehicles Act.
Some private cab aggregators have decided not to exchange their diesel cabs for CNG ones and outsource their diesel cabs to other states and cities. “We have put everything on mortgage; We have taken loans, mortgaged jewellery and land. If this does not go our way, drivers will soon start committing suicide,” said a protester.
Rajinder Soni, General Secretary of the Delhi Pradesh Taxi Union confirmed that the protests would continue. “We are planning to take out a rally from Rajghat on May 4 at 4pm… All transporters in Delhi need to get together and protest against what is happening.”
Owners and employees of several private cab companies who refrained from joining the protest Monday also intend to participate Tuesday onwards.
After extending the deadline twice, the Supreme Court had on Saturday refused to give more time to cab operators to convert to CNG and banned diesel cabs in the city from May 1.
According to the transport department, as many as 60,000 taxis are registered in Delhi of which 27,000 run on diesel.
On Sunday, over 170 diesel-run cabs, including many with AITPs, were impounded after they were found plying within the city limits.