Even as the move by the district administration to rein in auto drivers who fleece passengers seems to be gaining momentum, the drivers’ trade unions attribute the unhealthy practice to the unholy nexus between a few auto drivers and a section of police as some of the autos are owned by retired or serving policemen.
If the allegations are genuine, Kochi zone Inspector-General K Padmakumar has warned of “strict and unbiased action against the offenders in the police department”.
He agreed that earlier there were some complaints on the issue and asked the public to approach the senior officers if they are having complaints about the police-driver nexus.
Semandabadhran, district secretary of auto drivers’ union affiliated to CITU, said the unions have raised the issue several times at different official committees. “We have not given written complaints about the police officials who have criminal background as it would result in harassment by police. A junior police officer can also ruin the daily family budget of an innocent driver. It is easy to frame a fake case and harass a driver. If a driver is asked to report to the police station unnecessarily he will lose precious working hours which will affect his family budget,” he said.
Ernakulam RTO B J Antony said that five months ago the Motor Vehicles Department was asked by the police to forward the list of autos with “police quarters address”. “We have forwarded it,” he said.
The RTO also pointed that the Motor Vehicles Department has initiated several programmes to tackle the issue of auto drivers harassing passengers.
“We are holding talks with different residents’ associations and other groups concerned. We plan to erect boards at important junctions and residential areas displaying auto fare rates to different places. We have also published the mobile numbers of officials who can be contacted in case of emergency. Currently, we are checking the genuineness and legal dimensions of the complaints we received,” he said. At the meeting of different department officials on February 25, it was decided to conduct a special adalat on March to complete the calibration of fare meter in autos. The idea was to ensure that all autos in the city ply with proper scientific meters. But now, the Legal Metrology Department has written to us that it has technical problems to conduct the adalat in March. So unless higher authorities intervene, the status quo will continue for one more month,” he said.