(This story was first published in the Times of India on May 11, 2020)
MUMBAI/INDORE: Stripped of their livelihood and desperate to return home, at least 2,000 kaali peeli taxis and autorickshaws have left Mumbai for other states, Mumbai Taximen’s Union leader A L Quadros claimed on Sunday.
“The cabbies have been without earnings for more than a month and they left in their vehicles along with those leaving in trucks from Mumbai during the weekend,” he said, adding the kaali peeli taxi does not have a permit to ply beyond the Mumbai Metropolitan region, but the cabbies were travelling illegally, trying to cross the Maharashtra border to reach their hometowns.
Announcing this to the media on Sunday, Quadros demanded the state transport department give “permits for other states” for the kaali peelis so that all drivers can leave for their hometowns.
He said the drivers were headed to Himachal Pradesh, UP, Jharkhand and some to other districts within the state.
The city has 20,000 kaali peelis on the road and over two lakh autos. With drivers making an exodus, there could be a shortage of public transport once the lockdown is lifted.
Had nothing to eat: Migrant automen hit out at state govt
Hundreds of autos with Maharashtra registration numbers, headed for UP and Bihar, packed the Indore stretch of the Agra-Mumbai highway on Sunday.
TOI spoke to some of them who had stopped for a break on Indore’s outskirts. “There was nothing to eat. For every small necessity, we had to pay. We were forced to beg, so we decided it was better to go home,” said Vinod Giri, a resident of Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh.
Giri, his wife and two kids packed their belongings and set off from Saki Naka in their autorickshaw four days ago. It will take another two days to reach home, he said.
Asked when he plans to return, he said, “Never. If Yogiji gives us jobs, why would we return to Mumbai? We will stay with our own people.”
That was the cue for others to speak up. Rajesh Singh said, “We did not get any support from the Maharashtra government. In fact, we were beaten up by police while trying to escape from Mumbai.” Singh has left Mumbai with his two sons and a nephew.
The autorickshaw drivers allege even the announcements about providing food and water to the needy in Maharashtra were propaganda. “Those belonging to the ruling party get the benefits. The common man is stranded,” claimed Singh.
Anand Pal, an auto driver from Bhadohi, is not worried that it will take another three days to reach home and that he and his family will spend 14 days in quarantine. “I don’t mind that after what we have been through. After 14 days, I will call my village chief and tell him we have been tested and cleared. Now, let us stay home,” he said.
Pal plans to revive his farmland. “Earning from the land is better than begging in Mumbai,” he said.
The autowallahs’ grouse is echoed by Shashank Rao, leader of Autorickshaw Chalak Malak Sanghatana Sanyukt Kruti Samiti in Mumbai. “The Maharashtra government has done nothing to ease the plight of autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai. We distributed 15kg grocery packets to around 55,000 auto drivers who have lost their livelihood, but the numbers are huge. The government should give Rs 10,000 per month to each auto driver, but no action has been taken on our demand,” he told TOI.