Auto drivers lose their livelihoods amid the pandemic

COVID-19 State

Bank loans, money borrowing are the major struggles faced by auto drivers

Bangalore: Venkatesh is an auto driver who has recently lost his auto. The bank he took a loan from has seized his auto, “I don’t have money to pay the loan so my auto got taken away by bank,” he said.

He is now driving rented auto by paying Rs.200 per day, “I don’t know any other work than auto driving,” he added.

During lockdown in 2020, bank loans had been put on hold for six months. Since no transport facilities were allowed, so auto drivers had no income. After six months, banks started demanding the loan amount to be paid, but the drivers were unable to pay the amount and therefore lost their autos.  

Hemalatha, senior Manager at Canara Bank, said, “the interest is only waived for those six months after that we started collecting the loan amount.”  

Like Venkatesh, Covid-19 made another auto driver Sakthivel lose his auto. He was driving auto for 25 years but the sudden pandemic made him borrow Rs.1 lakh; from paying rent to necessities.

Unlike monthly salaried workers, auto drivers depend on daily income so to survive they have to borrow money. Auto driver Raj Kumar, who borrowed Rs. 50,000 for managing his family, said, “During the lockdown, we don’t have any passengers to earn. We don’t have a monthly salary. What we earn daily is our wage but if one doesn’t have that opportunity then how can one earn and feed his family?”


Moreover, as auto drivers didn’t find an opportunity to earn their income more drivers decided to sell their autos. Raja.S, President of Peace Auto Association said there were around 4000 members; in that, at least 500 people sold their autos during Covid-19.

Whereas in Adarsha Auto Union general secretary Sampath said nearly 40 percent sold their autos in their union.

But auto drivers are finding ways to survive. Economist Janaki Raman said, “I see some of the autos removed their top and changed into the vegetable shop for their livelihood. Moreover, the good thing is recently some of the auto drivers converted their autos into the ambulance.”

Lack of proper Implementation

The Karnataka Chief Minister B.S Yediyurappa announced Rs.5000 compensation for all Auto and Taxi drivers on May 6, 2020, for easing the economic difficulties of people in the state.

Raja, President of Peace Auto Association said, Government compensation of Rs.5000 has not been received by nearly half of the association’s 4000 members.

Mayalagu, President of Karnataka Janasrya Auto and Taxi drivers Union Register said, government-collected data about auto and taxi drivers to give Rs.5000 but out of around 7, 75,000 lakh auto and taxi drivers only 1,20,000 lakh received the amount. The rest drivers who applied still waiting for that amount.

The report said that the transport department only received Rs.60 crore from the government and the transport department distributed to the auto and taxi drivers. The portal for the application of compensation is also closed.

Auto driver Sakthivel is among one the beneficiaries that didn’t receive money. ”I applied for the compensation of Rs.5000 but still now I didn’t receive any amount,” he said.

Base fare

The meter price for auto drivers set in 2013 and the base fare is Rs.18 which remains unchanged till now. For the past seven years petrol, diesel, LPG gas price rose but auto driver’s incomes rely on the same fare set by the government.

But recently the Deputy Commissioner of Bengaluru Urban, Manjunath appointed a sub-committee to make a report on revising auto-rickshaw fares.

However, auto drivers fear that increasing base fare now would further affect their income. Auto driver Bhaskar from Vijayanagar said, “In a pandemic, passengers are hesitant to pay this base fare if it is further increased then it will be a problem.”

“Instead of increasing base fare reduce the gas/fuel price,” said Mayalagu, President of Karnataka Janasrya Auto and Taxi drivers Union Register.

Reducing the gas/fuel price will help auto drivers to make a profit. “The government can increase their margin of profit by suitably reducing the cost of gas/fuel and also fare should be increased marginally instead of increasing suddenly,” Janaki Ram, the economist suggested.

Demand

“But what we need is financial security during this pandemic,” said B.N Raghu vice-president of Auto Rickshaw Drivers Union. “We pay road tax, vehicle tax, fuel tax, and all prices went up during lockdown. We don’t have any financial security as our income is entirely dependent on the day so we want our tax money to help in this kind of situation.”

Auto driver’s families also depend on that daily income for survival. “It is not a single person that depends on daily income, the auto driver has a family contains a minimum of four members; everyone is depending on that income for survival,” he added.

Janaki Raman, an economist said, “the government can consider road tax concessions; instead of reducing tax, they can extend the period of the tax.”

The unexpected aid

The rations were not enough one needs other groceries also to cook. Auto driver Sakthivel said that the government helped them by providing rations but it is not enough.“We can’t eat only rice we need other materials like groceries, vegetables to cook,” he said.

He also mentioned that Sampath Auto-driver Association and corporate N.R Ramesh were the people who helped more auto drivers like him during lockdown by providing financial support.

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