TN: Auto-Taxi Drivers Demand State-run App, Govt. Accused of Inaction
Auto, taxi drivers reiterate their demands. Image courtesy: CITU, Chennai
More than 1,000 auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers of Chennai gathered in front of the Commissionerate of Labour in DMS, Chennai, demanding ease in registration to the welfare board, better benefits and a state-run application to replace the exorbitant Ola and Uber.
The protest was called under the banner of the Auto-Taxi Workers Union affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) on July 5.
A year ago, in July 2021, the union held a large demonstration putting forth their demands to the newly-formed DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) government. More than a year later, the workers say none of their demands has been heard by the government.
The drivers say that the state government can empower their livelihoods with simple measures, but they are unwilling to do so.
The union reiterated their demand for a state-run application to counter the privately-owned Ola and Uber and said it would be a win-win situation for all the stakeholders.
Balasubramanian, state president of the Auto-Taxi Workers Union, said, “If the government launched an app, we would get stable pay, the public would spend less on travel, and the government would earn a good name.”
He further said, “They receive only around Rs 15/km working for Ola and Uber, who take twice the amount fixed by the government; this can be prevented. Moreover, passengers pay more during peak hours, festival times and out-of-city travels, which can be prevented if the government runs an application.”
The Tamil Nadu government had fixed a minimum fare of Rs 25 for the first 1.8 km and Rs 12 for the subsequent ones in 2013. The negotiation to restructure the minimum fare is underway.
“We have already submitted memorandums demanding a state-run app to the transport secretary, and he has proposed it to the government. But, they are unwilling; they say it would cost Rs 200 crores, and they do not have the funds for it,” Balasubramanian said
He added, “We have urged them to take funds from the Welfare Board. The truth is that big corporates are not allowing it, and the state is unwilling to go against them.”
The union made some demands to improve the condition of auto and taxi workers in Chennai.
“The government doled out safety kits to 1,500 auto drivers. But there are 25,000 drivers across Tamil Nadu. It has to be given to all, not as a token measure,” Balasubramanian said.
The kits included fire extinguishers, shoes, socks and uniforms.
The union placed the demand to incorporate 200 more wards under the Chennai division of the revenue dept.
“As the state capital, all benefits begin from Chennai, and the drivers also gain from it. It so happens that those in the next street do not get benefits like the kits because they fall under Kanchipuram or Thiruvallur district, though they are also within GCC limits,” Balasubramanian said
The protestors demanded a festival bonus in Tamil Nadu. Registered auto drivers in Puducherry receive a Rs 1,000 festival bonus twice a year during Diwali and Pongal.
Currently, the pension amount is Rs 1,000/month; auto drivers demand it to be increased to Rs 3,000.
Since the date of application for a pension, the revenue department takes two years to process it, so the union has demanded that the pension be counted from the date of application and not the date it was processed.
They are also demanding an increase in compensation to the family of the autorickshaw and taxi drivers in case of a natural death from Rs 50,000 to 2 lakh, and from Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh for accidental death.
A meagre Rs 3,000 is provided once for daughters of the auto drivers when they join college and Rs 6,000 if they enter a hostel. The drivers are demanding an increase of this amount and an extension for their sons.
‘USE WELFARE BOARD FUNDS’
The auto and taxi drivers require the approval of the village administrative officer (VAO) or revenue officer (RO) to register with the revenue department.
Balasubramanian said, “Our ration cards have to be ratified by them. Why? Everything can get confirmed online. Why should we wait so long? Sometimes it takes up to six months to meet the officer.”
He added, “1% of our taxes goes to the welfare board. But, it is used for other purposes. Although there is a government order against it, the government itself is overruling its order. They use it for flower sellers, load workers and other unorganised workers.”
“The previous government gave us COVID relief when we were badly hit by the second wave. The present DMK government did not give us any relief,” he said.
The autorickshaw and taxi workers are also demanding relief funds during natural disasters.
“In the recent cyclone, none of us drove our autos for a week. The government could have given us Rs 500 from the welfare fund. But, they did not do it,” Balasubramanian said.
The workers feel that the board is not favourable towards the workers. The union informed that the welfare board has Rs 450 crore funds in its store. At present, there are no worker representatives on the board.
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