Smarting over the perceived breach of promise by the Mayor to substantially increase the number of city permits, autorickshaw workers within the city limits have threatened to go on an indefinite strike.
Trade unions of autorickshaw workers, affiliated to the CITU and INTUC, have accused Mayor Tony Chammany of reneging on the promise to add 3,500-odd city permits to the existing 4,000 sanctioned for the city.
A recent survey by the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) had revealed that of the 4,000 autorickshaw permits allotted only 1,800 were active.
Following a direction from the High Court, the MVD is now in the process of filling up the vacant slots through fresh applications. MVD is learnt to be giving preference to city residents and drivers-cum-owners among them.
Trade unions, however, complained that filling up vacancies would not solve the problem. V.V. Praveen, State committee member, CITU-affiliated Autorickshaw Drivers Association, said limiting the quota to 4,000 would leave out many autorickshaw drivers operating in the city for years.
“The Mayor had agreed to concede to our demand for allotting another 3,500 city permits. It is necessary considering the city’s expansion and demand for autorickshaw service. But the promise remains to be fulfilled. The Mayor now says he has sent a letter to the government to consider our demand. Such a letter is useless, as the Corporation council has to approve it,” he said.
Mr. Praveen said autorickshaw workers would be forced to go on strike if the next Corporation council meeting failed to take up their cause.
P.S. Akbar, regional general secretary of INTUC for Ernakulam Assembly constituency, said allocation of additional permits was necessary to accommodate thousands of autorickshaw drivers operating in the city.
“They were born and brought up in the city, but many had to move to adjoining panchayats, like Mulavukad and Cheranalloor, owing to their circumstances. To deprive them of the right to operate in the city, on account of their place of residence will be unfair,” he said.
Sakeer Hussain, president, INTUC Ernakulam Assembly Constituency, said the move to restrict the city permits to 4,000 might be a ploy to make way for auto taxis, which were permitted to operate anywhere in the State, at the cost of autorickshaws.
Workers’ unions also called for fixing a city limit as practiced in cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, instead of considering the entire corporation area as the city limit. “This will be a win-win situation for everyone, as customers will be charged only a minimum rate within the city limits. Thousands of autorickshaw drivers can also be accommodated within the Corporation area,” Mr. Akbar said. Ernakulam Regional Transport Officer B.J. Antony said the MVD had a limited role as it has to stick to the government order limiting city permits to 4,000.
Once the vacant 2,200-odd slots are filled up, thousands of autorickshaw operators will have to stay off the road or risk being penalized by MVD authorities.