The Karnataka lockdown imposed on Tuesday has left auto rickshaw and taxi drivers, amongst several others in the unorganized sectors, without work and pay. Several drivers that TNM spoke to, expressed helplessness and uncertainty about their future.
“The wounds of the previous lockdown itself hadn’t healed. Many auto drivers are still paying off debts incurred during the previous lockdown. Auto and taxi drivers in general live hand to mouth and due to the night curfew imposed earlier, we had suffered a reduction in business. Now, with the lockdown, we don’t have a clue how we can sustain in the field or manage our monthly expenditure,” said R Naveen Shenoy, a 61-year-old auto rickshaw driver from Bengaluru.
The government had allowed movement of taxi and auto rickshaws for emergencies during the lockdown. However, Naveen said it is not feasible to run the auto rickshaw depending on those customers.
According to Naveen, most auto rickshaws are bought with loans from finance firms and loan sharks. He said that these operators harass drivers, and in many cases illegally repossess the vehicles, pushing them onto streets. He alleged that the government has done nothing to prevent this from happening.
The situation with the taxi drivers has also been the same and those drivers TNM spoke to, also expressed similar concerns.
“To survive in Bengaluru, we need at least Rs 15,000 just for provisions and rent, above this we need to pay off EMI for our vehicle. With this lockdown I’m absolutely unsure what I can do. Our situation is like an animal left to die after its throat has been slit,” said Anand Kumar, a 35-year-old taxi driver.
The state government, after the previous lockdown, had announced it would provide Rs 5,000 to each taxi driver. When asked about it, Anand said, “Let’s not talk about it at all! We never received that amount. Also, how would that miniscule amount possibly help in any way?”
Following Monday’s announcement of a new lockdown, to be in effect till the 12th of May, drivers’ unions have demanded relief packages.
“The state government is saying that these are tough rules and not calling it a lockdown despite it being one. In this situation we (drivers) need compensation, a waiver of interest on our vehicle loans, protection from loan recovery agents, free groceries and free medical facility. Auto and taxi drivers live hand to mouth and we are dependent on our daily work. If the government doesn’t provide relief, we will certainly take up agitation against the government,” said Tanveer Pasha, president of Ola Uber Drivers and Owners’ Association.