Auto rickshaws are a dominated transportation of Kolkata. According to a record of 2018, about a half lakh registered auto rickshaw (and a few thousand unregistered) used to ferry a few lakh passengers daily in different routes of the city before the lockdown. From unlock 1.0, government has been allowed to play auto rickshaw with some strict rules. i.e. regular sensitization, use of a mask and could only ferry two passengers to maintain physical distancing. The government also has restricted to take or levy any extra fare from passengers. Before the pandemic, one operator used to earn around Rs.1000.00 daily after meeting all expenses. It has been seen that operators are from the varied social, economic and educational background. Particularly, the majority of them  is  slum dwellers and live within the city or adjacent places in the city. In recent times, a significant portion of them is even graduated and due to the absence of other employment opportunities , they joined in this occupation. They usually lead a better living standard.

But the pandemic adversely affected their daily lives as well as occupational status. After undailing 1.0, only a few thousand auto rickshaws are plying daily in few routes because of restriction of contaminated area in the city. Their earnings have been reduced roughly to one-tenth of normal time. Due to fear of disease and other unwanted situations, number of passengers has been reduced remarkably. The majority of these operators is jobless. Some of them are engaged in vegetable, fishes, vending on the street or in the different locality for the door to door selling. Among them, few operators have joined as daily wage earners under contractors, and they do construction job and the other low paid jobs. Their lives are under typically in threat and inhumane condition.

For instance, Debkumar(34, headed a five member family), a graduate auto rickshaw operator ferried passengers on a popular route of South Kolkata, and he earned daily approximately Rs.1000.00. Now he earned only Rs.100 -150 daily after ferrying passengers on the same route. He shared, ‘passengers are very few. We have to wait for 15 -20 minutes for two passengers and then, getting of an extra fare depends on the kindness of the passengers. It is impossible to continue operation for long. This earning is pathetic to maintain a family. Further, I am searching for an alternative. But scope of an alternative is rare. What would be the situation. I could not just think. The virus would how long sustain, it is unpredictable. Government is also less interested in us.’

Another auto rickshaw operator named Sushil (43), headed a 6 members family is now vending vegetable in the different locality. He earns only Rs. 150-160 daily. His elder daughter has completed her college education and another two kids (one son and one daughter) are in high school. He is worried about the marriage of his elder daughter. According to him, ‘there is a competition because so many vendors are in the same area. Consumers have limited their purchase capacity. Everybody is a very much conscious to control their expenses, considering the future days. Further, I have no such expertise, knowledge and experiences to operate this business. This  virus would take our lives because we have to die with hunger and starvation.’

Imtiaz(30), an auto rickshaw operator is now engaged as helper of a mason in a construction site, and he gets Rs.200 for 10 hours work per day. He said, ‘it is very hard physical labour. ‘Allah’ knows how long it would permit me. But I have to do it because to survive. It is not enough to manage the daily needs of my family. Further, this is contractual, it might not be continued for long’. All of them remarked, ‘our adverse economic condition is more dangerous than the Corona virus.

The impact of the pandemic is very crucial for the daily wage earners in unorganised and informal sectors. These operators are economically in adverse condition. They usually depend on their daily earnings. They were not prepared for any such crisis. Government has no initiative to provide any levy to them. Even their trade unions are also silent spectators for their welfare and social security. This unpredictable situation would destroy their lives because no one knows or could assure when it would be normal.  Therefore, their condition  would be as  “the proletarians of the proletariat”.

Harasankar Adhikari is a political commentator



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