There is tension in the air as a large contingent of police officers are seen diverting the traffic just outside Hyderabad’s historic Nampally Railway Station.
Large black banners are hung up across the area, which read ‘Save our families. Save our taxi stand’.
The iconic taxi stand at Nampally, which has existed for close to 70 years, has now been forced to shut down after officials of the Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMRL) said that the land belonged to them and would be used to create a multi-level parking complex.
Several taxi drivers were busy moving their cars on Thursday, dejection evident in their eyes, as they looked at the looming Nampally Metro station that was coming up opposite their taxi stand.
“I have been here for 32 years. I have spent my entire adult life here driving a taxi. My father did it before me, and my grandfather before him. It is very hard to just leave,” says MA Moosa.
The last two days witnessed intense protests by the taxi drivers after HMRL officials allegedly sent them a notice to evict within 48 hours, without any prior warning.
Angry taxi drivers took to the streets and raised slogans against the metro rail, until the police and politicians intervened.
On Thursday, Nampally MLA Jaffar Hussain from the AIMIM visited the spot and spoke to the drivers, police and HMRL officials. On an assurance by him, the taxi drivers agreed to break the deadlock and move their cars to the premises of an old government building nearby.
History and nostalgia
Several taxi drivers were nostalgic as they evacuated the stand and expressed their sorrow that the HMRL officials would build a gate and close off access to the area just hours after all vehicles were removed.
The Nampally Railway Station, also known as the Hyderabad Deccan Station, is more than a century old. It was built by the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, in 1907.
“The taxi stand was one of the first to come up in erstwhile Hyderabad state, and it has stood the test of time. The drivers are a close-knit community who have known each other for years, as our fathers were friends too,” Moosa says.
“You can go and check in the police station. Not one driver has a police complaint against him for misbehaving with a customer, unlike drivers of cab aggregation companies nowadays. We are a 24-hour service and we ensure that customers always reach their homes safely, no matter what time of the day or night it is. People in the area trust us,” he adds.
Many abandoned vehicles at the back of the stand were also towed away to the adjacent complex.
“The taxi stand used to be much bigger and in the centre of the road. During NT Rama Rao’s time, he built a road at the location and gave us land on the other side to keep our vehicles,” says Mohammed Maqbool, another long-time driver.
“While we had minor issues then as well, authorities at the time weren’t as rude as the metro officials who are just asking us to vacate,” he adds.
Mahmood, another driver, says, “Our lives are dependent on it… we are all here doing an honest business and running our families. If it gets shut down, where will we go? How will we feed our families?”
No proposal to allot floor for taxis?
TNM spoke to several officials of the HMRL at the spot, who refused to be identified.
The officials said that the land had been transferred to the consortium years ago but refused to answer questions on why there was no prior notice given to the cab drivers.
While taxi drivers told TNM that MLA Jaffar Hussain had assured them that they would be allotted one floor in the multi-level parking complex that will come up at the spot, a Metro official said that no such proposal is being looked into right now.
The Nampally Metro station under construction
The construction of the complex could take months, potentially even a year, as Metro officials are yet to call for tenders. Despite being shifted to a temporary spot, this could leave taxi drivers in the lurch.
“We can’t help but believe our MLA's assurance. We are hoping that he will keep his promise. Until then, we will just manage here and adjust in this smaller place. We are not against development. We also want the Metro, but not at the cost of several livelihoods,” one taxi driver says.