GUWAHATI, Aug 21 � Castigating the State Government, the Transport Department in particular, for failing to make autorickshaw operators run as per fare meter, public activist Prof Deven Dutta today said that Assam was the only State where there was no semblance of any order in the manner commercial vehicles operated.
�It is shocking and shameful that the government authorities concerned including the Transport Department and the administration have failed to make autorickshaw operators run as per fare meter. This is in gross violation of the law, as taxis and auto-rickshaws must have fixed fare rates and cannot run as per whims of the operators who invariably fleece the customers,� Prof Dutta said at a press conference.
Urging the State Government to immediately convene a tripartite talk involving representatives from civil society and autorickshaw operators besides the Government, Prof Dutta said that many quarters including members of the bureaucracy had made it a habit to beat about the bush on the issue of fare meters without having any knowledge of the background.
Prof Dutta said that the Grahak Suraksha Sanstha � the citizens� body for consumer rights protection � had a discussion with the then Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia in August 1991 and in April the following year the meter system was introduced in the autorickshaws of Guwahati.
�However, the negligent attitude of the authorities in enforcing the law, the stubbornness of the auto-operators who came up with all sorts of flimsy pretexts against the metered fare system, and the abysmal lack of awareness among the consumers ensured that it was an extremely short-lived exercise,� Prof Dutta said.
Pointing out that there was an attempt at reviving the fare meter system in 1994, Prof Dutta said that the autorickshaw operators resisted the move and even assaulted an executive magistrate on duty in broad daylight.
�It is shocking that the Government did not take any action and gave in to the illegal and unjustified stand of the autorickshaw operators to run without fare meters,� Prof Dutta said.
Prof Dutta said that unlike their counterparts in cities outside the State, the autorickshaw operators never resorted to any strike demanding revision of autorickshaw fares because they had literally been looting the customers all the time.
�They never feel the need to have a revision of fare rates as they have always been charging well above any reasonable rate,� he added.
Terming Transport Minister Chandan Brahma as the most incompetent person ever to head the department, Prof Dutta said that the entire scenario concerning the operation of commercial vehicles, including public vehicles like city buses, long-distance buses, trekkers, wingers, etc, was one of utter chaos and anarchy with the government authorities looking the other way.
�The State Government has made a complete surrender before the transport lobby and this is testified to by the authorities� shocking inaction on all sorts of violations indulged in with impunity by the transport operators. Brahma was a total failure in his previous term as Transport Minister but the same person has been retained by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi this time also. This raises legitimate questions as to the considerations for which such a person has been given the same job,� he said, adding that corruption was rampant in the department which explains why large-scale violations could continue unabated.
Lambasting the opposition political parties and student organizations for failing to take up such issues of vital public interest, Prof Dutta said that many leaders of parties and organizations were into the transport business and hence their reluctance to oppose the illegalities in the sector.