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In the two months since the Government of Delhi eased lockdown restrictions in the city, auto rickshaw drivers in the capital say that they are struggling to stay in business thanks to weak demand, and financial pressure.
The drivers say that there are a limited amount of people stepping out and using rickshaw services thereby limiting their income. The drivers also added that private financiers have been forcing them to pay back loans taken against purchases of new three-wheelers.
The city has over 95,000 registered auto rickshaws that run multiple shifts. Most drivers rent out vehicles from owners, and a large number of these migrant drivers returned to their homes once the lockdown was called for.
Some migrant rickshaw drivers took their vehicles to their home states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While a few have returned to Delhi, others are
waiting for the Covid-19 situation to subside before returning.
Mr Rajendra Soni, the General Secretary at the Delhi Auto Rickshaw Sangh said, "It has now become difficult to feed our families due to a sharp decline in demand as people are not stepping out due to coronavirus. What worsens the situation for auto drivers is that they have taken loans and financiers are putting pressure on them for payment."
Drivers have also raised concerns about loan sharks threatening to seize vehicles if loans and interests are not paid on time.
Mr Pradeep Ahuja, a rickshaw driver in Delhi said, "I took a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh from a private financier who is now demanding payment and threatening to tow away my auto. I have a family of five, and last month I underwent an operation. I do not earn enough to feed my family let alone pay the installment."
Mr Soni has had the Sangh urge the government to write off interests on loans autos and taxis for the remainder of the year in order to bring more stability and peace of mind to the rickshaw drivers.
Mr Anuj Rathor, the Secretary at the Rashtriya Rajdhani Kshetra Auto Drivers Union said that conditions of drivers who ferry passengers in rented vehicles is alarming.
He said, "Even at the personal risk of catching Covid-19 infection, drivers are working but it is a misfortune that they are not being able to earn enough to pay rent and feed their families."
Most rickshaw owners rent their vehicles to other drivers for between Rs 200 and Rs 350 per shift - something that rental drivers are heavily concerned about.
Mr Rajesh Bidhauria, an auto rickshaw driver, said, "I have earned only Rs 70 so far and I have to pay Rs 200 rent to the auto owner. This is the case everyday. I am left with very little money after paying rent to the auto owner."
The drivers also say that other expenses like sanitisation kits add to the deficit, making it difficult to survive with the current income.
Mr Ravindra, another rickshaw driver said, "After paying the auto rent of Rs 250, I save around Rs 200-250 which I spend mainly on food for my family of seven which includes my parents."
The auto unions based at Delhi say that the Government has helped drivers during the early stages of the lockdown by giving them a one-time financial assistance of Rs 5,000, and that the government must help again.
Thoughts About The Plight Of Rickshaw Drivers In Delhi
This isn't a great space to be in. The number of people venturing out has drastically reduced, and most people who step out prefer to use their own vehicles. We think the Government has to offer a help-package for rickshaw drivers across the country, and not just Delhi.