They are forced to pledge gold and silver ornaments or approach financers to clear payment of the e-challans

Instances of auto drivers pledging gold and silver ornaments or approaching financers to pay huge e-challans are on the rise in old city. Traffic police justifies this as doing their job by enforcing of traffic rules, but for the auto drivers it is a sense of being pushed into a debt trap.

“I pledged my wife's gold ornaments to clear pending e-challans of Rs.2,000 after my vehicle was detained at Charminar police station,” says Mohd. Qaiyyum, an auto driver from Kalapather. The enormous figure was a result of piled up penalties of last few months.

Auto drivers report receiving at least two to three e-challans every week. Though the challans are for Rs.100 or Rs.200, they become a big sum in due time. Rasheed, another auto driver claims to have taken a loan of Rs.8,000 from a financer to clear pending e-challans of the past two years. “I had to get the vehicle released at any cost. Delay would mean loss of earnings,” he explains.

Auto drivers turn to financers or pawn brokers to arrange for money to pay up huge penalties that come as an unexpected shock. “These are in addition to the on-the-spot fines we pay. We are pushed into a debt trap in the name of enforcement,” complains Shaik Ahmed, another auto driver.

Auto drivers claim that most fines are either for ‘piloting offences', meaning accommodating a passenger beside the driver, or for violation in ‘no-parking' zones. But, ‘piloting' is a part of a sharing system that reduces the burden on the passengers, they argue.

In sharing an auto, factors like petrol consumption, road conditions play an important role in determining the money to be earned for a trip. For example, on Kalapather to Charminar route, they charge eight rupees from a passenger and earn around Rs.40 by accommodating five passengers, though meter fare works out to be Rs.30. “During afternoons we return empty. We make up for the loss during rush hours. And look at the road conditions,” argues an auto driver.

They also complain about the service charges of Rs.35 being charged for each e-challan. “For 10 challans of Rs.100 each, we pay Rs.1,000 plus Rs.350 as service charge,” bemoans a driver.

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