Saturday, October 1, 2011
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Fleeced by autorickshaw drivers in Delhi? Illegal permit trade and benami ownerships are the reasons why they have to resort to this

Puranmasi wanted to replace his old autorickshaw with a new one. Having failed to get it replaced on his own, he approached an agent of a financier who made him sign several documents which Puranmasi could not understand. He was promised a new vehicle as well as easy finance within a few weeks. However, even after 18 months the vehicle was not delivered whereas money was regularly taken from the naive Puranmasi on the pretext of procedural fee. Later, he was shocked to know that a replacement for his old vehicle had been sold to another driver while the registration remains on his name. The matter is now pending in court.

Puranmasi is just one of the thousands of autorickshaw drivers in Delhi who have been duped or are at the mercy of auto financers enjoying control over 83 per cent of the city’s 55,000 autorickshaws.

Trap of the wicked 

While trucks and buses are generally owned by wealthy people, autorickshaws are mostly purchased by those who want to earn their daily bread by driving them. The original price of an autorickshaw is Rs 1.35 lakh but you can’t buy it in less than Rs 6.30 lakh. One of the reasons for such a scenario is the restriction imposed by the Supreme Court in 1997 that not more than 55,000 autorickshaws can be run in Delhi. This was done  to control pollution in the city but the order led to high premium on the permits increasing the cost of driving an autorickshaw. This happens despite the Supreme Court terming dealing in permits illegal in its 1997 order. A buyers sells land or other valuable items to arrange down payment and decides to arrange a loan for the rest of the amount.

The original price of an autorickshaw is Rs 1.35 lakh but you can’t buy it in less than Rs 6.30 lakh. One of the reasons is the restriction imposed by the Supreme Court in 1997 that not more than 55,000 autorickshaws can be run in Delhi to check pollution.

No bank gives him loan because he cannot get a guarantor, can’t furnish a track record or other documents that a bank demands. Enter the private financier who gives him loan at the flat interest rate of 16 per cent and makes him sign two stamp papers and a bunch of blank forms, often in duplicate and triplicate. Since the market value of an autorickshaw together with permit is well over Rs 6 lakh, the monthly instalment comes to around Rs 15,000 after down payment of Rs 2 lakh. Payment of such high instalment is not sustainable beyond a few months, with the result that there is a default which leads to repossession of the vehicle. The down payment and instalments already paid by the driver stand forfeited.

The vehicle and permit are further sold at high rate on the basis of blank papers even as the original owner remains the possessor in official records of transport authority. This turns the vehicle/permit benami. Since by virtue of the custody of the papers, the control of the vehicle lies with the auto-financier, he exploits the new owner to the hilt. This fact is further established by hundreds of legal cases instituted by or against auto-financers in the district courts of Delhi. All the cases clearly mention that the loan was advanced to one person whereas the vehicle was registered in somebody else’s name. Also, the loan mentioned in all the cases is in excess of Rs 3 lakh per autorickshaw, despite the fact that the cost of a vehicle cannot exceed Rs 1.35 lakh and the Supreme Court had termed the trading in permits illegal.

The vehicle and permit are further sold at high rate on the basis of blank papers even as the original owner remains the possessor in official records of transport authority. This turns the vehicle/permit benami. Since by virtue of the custody of the papers, the control of the vehicle lies with the auto-financier, he exploits the new owner to the hilt.

The proxy owners 

Another modus operandi employed by auto financers helps them invest their black money. At the time of purchase of permit and vehicle, the financiers get the vehicles transferred on the names of their poorly paid employees. For instance, Ashok Kumar, a resident of Inder Enclave Phase I, has eight permits on his name at the behest of an auto financier. He actually owns none of them and earns his livelihood by driving an autorickshaw on monthly rent of Rs 10,000. Information sought under the RTI Act revealed that 75 per cent of the permits are in the names of those people who own multiple permits. Most of these owners live in slums or resettlement colonies, indicating that the beneficial ownership rests elsewhere. In fact, after studying the ground situation, the Environment Pollution [Prevention and Control] Authority had submitted a report to the Supreme Court in 2009 terming the auto financiers as “financier-mafia.”

The financier mafia also has political connections as evident from a letter written by MP Sandeep Dikshit to the Transport Department of Delhi referring to his meeting with the Chairman of “TSR Auto Dealers Association.”  Dikshit asked the transport department to allow transfer of permits without requiring the presence of original owners. The interest of dealers in transfer of permits shows that they indulge in trading of permits, which is illegal. A deal between two people to transfer the permit with or without monetary consideration should not be allowed in a supply-deficient market when there are deserving candidates waiting for the permit to be allotted. Ends of justice would be met only when the permit is surrendered by the original allottee to the transport authority and is transferred by the latter to the next deserving candidate on first-come-first-served basis.

While direct victims of the mafia syndicate are the auto drivers who have become virtual bonded labourers at the hands of illegal financers, millions of passengers who travel in autos every day are also deprived of an honest, and reliable service because auto drivers are left with no other choice but to fleece them to make the ends meet.

Rakesh Aggarwal is secretary of Nyayabhoomi, a group fighting for legal rights of marginalised communities

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