It’s difficult for an autorickshaw driver to manipulate the fare meter. These meters have to be authenticated once every year or whenever official fares are revised. Tampering with the meter means breaking the government seal. This not only amounts to breaking the law, it also leads to a lot of trouble the next time that meter has to be authenticated.
That doesn’t mean all auto drivers are honest. Most of those who fleece passengers are migrants desperate for any sort of employment. They get their driving licence in a jiffy by bribing officials, and feign faulty meters, overcharge customers and refuse to accept those who want to go to ‘unprofitable’ destinations. It is these few who give auto drivers a bad name.
The switch from petrol to CNG has made our life very arduous. The cheaper fuel is hardly any compensation. CNG-powered autos require more frequent maintenance as compared to those running on petrol. Earlier, queues at CNG refilling stations used to extend for miles. Thankfully, that has changed.
We have to be really wary of the police and their agents, especially at airports, railway stations and bus terminals. They are always looking to make a quick buck from us. Once, two of them landed up at my brother’s place with a false FIR saying that we had driven away with Rs 50,000 worth of goods. Luckily, we personally knew their superior officer, who cleared up the matter. Now, I always check what a passenger leaves behind.
I’ve found—and promptly returned—costly phones, women’s purses with valuables, and laptops. I check and return these articles, as it also ensures my safety. Auto drivers don’t have the right to check what people carry with them. I don’t know what else they might be leaving behind.
(He has been driving an autorickshaw in the National Capital Region for 22 years)
As told to Arindam Mukherjee