They formed the Sreepadam auto-taxi unit a month ago trusting the words of the Kochi Corporation. But now, they find it difficult to repay the loan they took to begin the venture . These five women are still waiting for the government to allot them a stand.

The corporation, under its Urban Poverty Alleviation programme, had provided Rs. 3 lakh as subsidy per unit against a loan of Rs. 9 lakh. Though the bank had given a one-month grace period to start repayment, the women were asked to pay about Rs. 2000 each towards the interest last month. The vehicles were bought a month before the service was launched.

A meeting was held recently to decide about the first instalment to be paid to the bank on Monday. Each has to shell out Rs. 5,300, but only one person has earned a net of about Rs. 4,000.

“All five have to remit the amount or else the subsidy will be withdrawn,” said the leader of the group Anita Suresh.

The corporation selected the women through the District Kudumbashree Mission. They were also given training under the entrepreneurship development programme.

“We get a maximum of about three-four calls a day. It may be a starting problem like any other enterprise, but it would really help if we had a space to sell our service. Nobody will know that an auto-taxi is available unless we park it at a stand,” said Archa Madhu, an auto-taxi driver. “We are able to provide our service only through phone calls. We have been giving a card with our number to many of our friends and acquaintances. A couple of us have managed to get a monthly contract for dropping children at schools or for tuitions. There was also some talk about toll-free numbers, but nothing has come up yet,” said Ms. Suresh.

Where do we exist?

“We don’t want to blame anyone right now as it is only the beginning, but people keep asking us whether we exist only in newspapers,” she added.

The autorickshaw drivers are yet to recognise the auto-taxi and its drivers, not allowing them space at their stands. The district administration has promised to find space for the women’s auto-taxis. There was a suggestion to offer their service at the boat jetty at Kakkanad.

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