Auto-rickshaw drivers are among the worst-hit by the steep fuel price hike that has come at a juncture when they are yet to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic blues.
During the peak period, we were not able to operate for about three months and later we were asked to resume after following a strict protocol, laments an auto driver Ramana Murthy. Business is yet to pick up as passengers are reluctant to hire an auto and unwilling to pay the extra fare, he says.
In Visakhapatnam city there are about 27,000 autorickshaw drivers and about 10% have already quit the job to become daily wage labourers, as at least by doing so they can earn ₹500 per day, says Autorickshaw Drivers’ Union president Vaman Murthy.
Many parents too have stopped sending their children to school by autos, due to COVID-19 fear. At least 40% of the auto drivers were dependent on school-dropping and now barely 5% of the business has resumed, says Mr. Vaman Murthy.
Other members of the union say that the hike in fuel prices has been exorbitant. In 2014, the cost of one litre of diesel was ₹38 and now it is ₹84.
‘Govt. not reducing taxes’
According to Ch. Narasinga Rao of CPI(M) the rise in price is not due to an increase in international crude oil prices, but due to the taxes and cess, which is responsible for 50% of the hike.
The State government can reduce the cess and taxes, as the Kerala government has done, but the YSRCP will not do it and will rather tax the auto drivers by increasing the fine amount for various violations such as wrong parking by 800 or 900%, alleges Mr. Vaman Murthy. The fine for wrong parking was earlier ₹135 and now it is ₹1,035, he says.
The rise in prices of fuel has a cascading effect on other things and impacted the overall economic condition of drivers, says J.V. Satyanarayana Murthy of CPI.
Auto drivers demand that the tax and cess be reduced, fuel prices be brought under GST and the Union government make the prices uniform across the country.