Press Releases : Taxi union strikes success with a few stones

Taxi union strikes success with a few stones
October 17, 2008 11:13 AM

The auto strike was bound to happen, but all taxis going off the roads had looked an unlikely event. Just a few stones, pelted by a handful of rowdies, changed it all. Not only the black-and-yellow cabs, even the fleet of Meru, Mega and Cool cabs did a vanishing act.

Thursday once again showed that lawlessness is fast becoming the order in the city. The Sharad Rao-led Mumbai Rickshaw Taximen's Union (MRTU) resorted to the time-tested combo of terror and fear, and came up trumps. MRTU's sway on autowallahs is complete; no wonder they stayed off the roads. But with its support base among taximen being negligible, the union members resorted to stone pelting and gundagiri, forcing every cabby off the roads.

Among the private fleet, Meru bore the brunt. Some of its cabs were stoned in the morning and company had to call every single of its 750 vehicles off the street. Helpline callers were greeted with an automated reply: "Due to unavoidable reasons, we won't be taking any bookings today."

"We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to passengers. After some of our cabs were attacked, we decided not to risk it and stopped taking bookings," said an official from V-Link Taxis Pvt Ltd, which operates the air-conditioned Meru cabs.

The police, as has been its wont over the past few months, remained mute spectators. Incidentally, Rao belongs to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), of which deputy chief minister and home minister RR Patil is a top leader.

The strike was called to protest the phasing out of cabs that are over 25 years old. Tagged to it were the cabbies' demand for a hike in fares, making electronic meters optional, exemption from toll (which is always paid by the passenger, for both ways, over and above the taxi bill) and abolition of fleet taxis, such as Meru.

"The recent directive of phasing out existing taxis, a majority of which are Premier Padmini, was unjust since the emission norms prescribed were being met by the cabwallahs. Also the phasing out scheme was a ploy to allow some persons make money at the cost of taxi chauffeurs," said Rao, defending the strike.

He alleged that the government had abruptly issued orders, cancelling licences of nearly 15,000 cabs which were more than 25 years old, to cut down on pollution. The deadline for phasing out the old taxis was December 3. Various unions had approached the government, seeking an extension. "We tried to meet the ministers and the bureaucrats for an extension as it is not feasible to phase out all the cabs in such a short span. However, before the government could decide on our plea, Rao's union called the strike," said Mushtaq Qureishi of the City Taxi Union (CTU).

Cab chauffeurs affiliated to the Mumbai Taximen's Union, which is the biggest one, had refused to participate in the strike. "Rao is trying to create a parallel union as strong as MTU. For that, he is taking recourse to such tactics. And today, he has succeeded," said AL Quadros, the MTU chief.