With fuel prices touching an all-time high and Covid-19 leading to the shutdown of businesses, auto drivers in Tamil Nadu are calling it a day.
Trade Union leaders and activists are of the opinion that a large number of auto-rickshaw drivers in the southern state have quit and are selling their autos at low prices.
Mohammed Shabeer, an auto-rickshaw driver from T. Nagar in Chennai, told IANS, "Yes I have already sold my auto and am planning to work in some shop to support my family. Fuel prices are touching an all-time high and are increasing daily so we don't have any other option other than quitting. I have not paid my EMI for the past four months and have sold all the gold available at home. Hence, I thought that it is better to quit rather than move on with huge losses."
"Banks never showed any leniency even after the markets were shut for more than two months due to Covid-19 coupled with hiked fuel prices. I have decided after long thought to call it a day. I can't carry on with these liabilities," Shabeer added.
The trade unions are of the opinion that the auto-rickshaw drivers are not in a position to carry on their day-to-day activities after the daily fuel price hike.
K.K. Kathiravan, a trade union leader associated with the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), who lives in Kanyakumari told IANS, "The union has strongly recommended to the state government to somehow settle this issue. The Union government is creating problems by unnecessarily hiking fuel prices and there is no hope for the auto-rickshaw drivers."
The auto drivers complain that while they fill their fuel tanks with petrol worth Rs 400, they did a business of Rs 200 to Rs 300 only. This has led to many auto drivers looking for other work.
Selvaraj Manicakam, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader and auto-rickshaw union General Secretary at Madurai, speaking to IANS said, "A rough estimate finds that nearly 15 to 20 per cent of the auto-rickshaw drivers have quit the profession and have sold their autos to settle the liabilities and are scouting for other jobs. The decade-old unrevised fares are the main reason for this and with a heavy hike in fuel prices and post-Covid shutdown, the auto drivers are a harried lot. We are submitting a detailed memorandum to the government to revise the fares."
After Tamil Nadu announced free travel for women in state-run buses, they are not using auto-rickshaws. Most of the women are now travelling in buses.
Kumar Ganeshan, an auto-rickshaw driver at Pammal in Chennai, told IANS, "I am selling my auto and even at a reduced price, takers are less. Prices of fuel are at an all-time high. Shops and establishments were closed for the past two months due to Covid-19 and we didn't have any work. Now after the DMK government announced free travel for women in buses, most of them are travelling in state-run buses and we don't have any work. I have to find a job at a shop or somewhere to support my family."
Senior DMK leader K. Ponmudi speaking to IANS said, "The government is aware and Chief Minister M.K. Stalin will be calling a meeting of the union leaders and the minister concerned and let us see what best we can do."
The situation is worse in Trichy and more than 40 per cent of the auto drivers have quit the profession and have sold their autos.
K. Manikandan, CITU Trichy District Secretary, told IANS, "The auto drivers are quitting a job in large numbers and are selling their autos to settle the liabilities. There has to be a revision in the fare which is a decade old and this is the only solace for these drivers who find it very difficult to pull on. The Union is giving a memorandum to the government to hike the fares.