Despite Chief Minister
The taxi and auto drivers this newspaper spoke with said they are aware that Mumbai is still in the grip of the virus, but they have no option but to return. “We don’t own land and employment avenues here [in villages and towns in UP] are zero. Since our vehicles are registered in Mumbai, we can’t run them over long distances here. For shorter fares, one can’t ask people in the village to pay – they are all neighbours or relatives,” said an auto-driver In Parsanda village in Unnao, every third house now has a black-and-yellow vehicle parked in its yard.
Suresh Lodhi, 50, and five other auto drivers drove four days to reach Parsanda an May 17. Lodhi carried his entire family of five in his auto. A resident of Santacruz, Lodhi has been driving autos in Mumbai since 1990. He said he has been following news and would return to Mumbai as soon as normal auto and taxi operations are allowed.
In Sagara Bazaar, a small town in Pratapgarh district, the ‘MH’ in Asif Sheikh’s auto’s licence plate gets noticed everywhere. “If I take my auto out of Sagara Bazar, I will get into trouble with the cops. And within Sagara Bazaar there is no business,” he said. Sheikh, 38, who is based out of Andheri in Mumbai, arrived in Sagara Bazaar in a convoy of six autos. In his auto were his wife, two daughters and a son. “I am here physically, but my soul is in Mumbai. Just waiting for the Maharashtra government to allow us to run our business the way it was before this dreadful virus struck,” he said. Sheikh purchased a new auto recently, his second.
“Since March, I have been unable to pay the EMIs of Rs 5,000 for my second auto. I have exhausted all my savings,” he said. According to taxi union leader Shashank Rao around 35 per cent of Mumbai’s taxi and auto drivers have left. “Ten two twelve per cent of these left with their vehicles,” he said. Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has close to 4 lakh autos and 1 lakh taxis. He said the Maharashtra government should allow resumption of normal auto and taxi operations as soon as possible. “Mumbai is all about mobility. Taxi and autos will help decongest buses and trains,” he said.
In Bhaupur village in Pratapgarh district, Kuldeep Singh, 44, a resident of Kurla in Mumbai, has decided he will return to Mumbai on June 30. Driving a taxi in Mumbai since 1994, he hopes things would have returned to normal by then.
Shekhar Singh, 46, a native of Katauna in Jaunpur district, said his tiny town has five Mumbai-registered taxis. A resident of Kurla, Singh has been driving taxis in Mumbai for 20 years. “We would have died if we had stayed in Mumbai. I was worried about my wife and children. But now we must go back as survival here with zero income is impossible,” he said.
K K Tiwari, who runs an auto union which competes with Rao’s, says taxi and auto drivers have low savings. “We told them returning to their village and towns was not a good idea. But a month back, everybody was just too scared. Everybody only wanted to get out of Mumbai. Now that things look more stable, they want to return. But many of them will have to make a fresh start,” he said.
Autorickshaw drivers struggle to pay EMIs