Cops puncture autowallahs' pre-poll high

On a cold afternoon, Sanjay Chawla receives a call from Rajeev Kumar, an aggrieved auto driver. Chawla calls  him over to Vikram Nagar, near Feroz Shah Kotla Fort and patiently listens to his complaint against Delhi Traffic Police in his own autorickshaw.

“Over the last one year, if auto drivers had any grievances, they could call a few phone numbers or meet me at a pre-decided location. Now we are setting up a grievance cell here where they can approach us for guidance. The auto drivers will now have an address,” Chawla says. An autodriver himself and a coordinator of the Aam Aadmi Party, Chawla has taken it upon himself to guide other drivers on how to deal with “false cases” slapped by the Delhi Traffic Police.

Armed with a court challan, a slip of his meter reading and a print-out of a train ticket, Kumar tells him how he has been “unfairly” targeted for refusing a passenger. “I was waiting at Moti Nagar to pick up my neighbor who wanted to catch a train from Anand Vihar railway station. A woman asked me to drop her at Kakrola which is around 20 km away. Even before I had fully explained to her that I had a passenger waiting, she took me to some policemen in a Gypsy nearby.

He says he tried explaining to police, but in vain. “I have been slapped with a court challan. I showed the police my meter reading, but they didn’t care. I could have carried the woman had it been a small distance, but her destination was 20 km away,” says Kumar.

Chawla tells him to call him two days before he is to appear in court. “I will connect you to an advocate. Hopefully he should be able to help you for free,” he assures Kumar.
Chawla claims he is approached by 20-25 such auto-drivers every day, mostly charged with refusing to carry passengers or not going by the meter.

“The traffic police have deployed many of their women personnel as decoy customers. Even as the auto driver is switching on the meter, the customer asks him to say what would be the estimated amount for the distance. As soon as the driver gives his estimate, the woman drags the driver to policemen who are waiting nearby,” alleges Chawla.
The aim is to target auto drivers and penalise them instead of improving the system, he says. “This problem is most rampant in areas like Peergarhi, Turkman Gate, Naraina and Punjabi Bagh. In each of these areas, as many as six-seven women police personnel are employed for this purpose,” Chawla alleges.

Aware of this alleged technique applied by the police, he says he is wise enough not to fall in this “trap” himself. Around three months ago, he himself was a target. “The woman insisted thrice to quote a price and each time I told her that I was going to travel by meter. The fourth time she asked, I threatened her of legal action. She got off the auto and moved ahead,” claims Chawla.

Problem for police

The Delhi Traffic Police, however, deny employing this tactic. “We do not indulge in all this. Do we have enough policewomen to employ them as decoys everywhere?” says Anil Shukla, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic).

He highlights that last year alone there were around 10,000 cases of refusal by the auto drivers. “Are all these cases of tricking them using decoy policewomen,” he says, adding that refusal by auto drivers is a major concern for the traffic police.

Chawla also alleges that before as well as after the state Assembly elections in December last year, the police harassed auto drivers who carried posters of Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party. “They were beaten and abused and false and exaggerated cases filed against them.” 

But Shukla chose to dismiss this allegation too, saying the department is not bothered about any auto driver’s inclination towards Kejriwal or any other party or politician. “We work purely as Delhi Traffic Police. It is wrong to say that we single out autos with AAP posters.”

Auto drivers insist that they should be asked for reasons for refusing a passenger. “We are human beings and can have valid reasons for refusing someone. No one cares if we ourselves are sick or are on our way to carry our family to hospital. Some of us refuse to carry passengers because we are low on CNG gas. Does that not count?”says Shishupal Singh.

He claims many other drivers are so terrified by police that they ask their neighbours or their children or other family members to accompany them in the auto even when they go to any nearby location for any personal work.

“Passengers are waiting at every other corner. Carrying someone of our own in the auto would deter them from stopping us,” says Singh.

Chawla, meanwhile, acknowledges that there are auto drivers who refuse to go by meter, but blames police for it. He alleges that police take a monthly amount of Rs 3,000 from each driver at railway stations and Rs 5,000 at the airport. “Why will the drivers go by meter? If you visit the airport, you will see even DTC buses are put on hold when a flight arrives. Auto rickshaws are given preference over the buses. It is only because police take a 'monthly' from them,” he says.

Chawla is now calling upon the community to form groups in every ward of Delhi. “As per our system, around 50 auto drivers will be appointed in each ward of Delhi. Those who have worked hard for the welfare of the community will be put in charge,” he says.
The auto drivers also want to be given the right to refuse passengers who want to go to “dangerous” areas such as Mangolpuri, Sultanpuri, Dwarka and Nangloi late at night. “It has become common for the locals in these areas to rob us of our vehicle or even our daily earnings,” complains Shishupal. If this demand can’t be agreed upon, at least each auto rickshaw should be allowed to have two drivers at night.

“No one talks about the safety of the auto drivers when they are forced to travel to the dangerous areas at night. Who takes their responsibility?” Chawla says.

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