Bangalore auto drivers locked in a battle with oil companies
the move to get Bangalore's autorikshaws to install liquefied petroleum gas (lpg) retrofitted tanks has run into trouble. Auto drivers and oil companies seem to have reached a stalemate over the provision of gas stations. The former say they are ready to install these tanks but there aren't enough gas stations, while the latter argue they will open more stations only after adequate number of autos have converted. Most autos use the changeable 5.5 kilogramme (kg) lpg cylinders, meant for domestic purposes. Amid this tussle, the Transport Department's (td's) deadline for autos registered from April 1999 onwards to make the switch expired on March 18, 2005; the deadline for autos of all models is July 2006.
Of the 73,000 public autos in the city, only 16,422 had retrofitted tanks as of March 2005. The rest used the cylinders; very few ran on petrol. The tanks are permanently installed beneath the drivers' seat while the cylinders have to be replaced when they get empty. Someshekar R, president of Bangalore Auto and Taxi Drivers Association, complains that due to the lack of gas stations, "at present the waiting time to get a refill is three-four hours". There are 13 refilling centres in the city, but only four are centrally located. The rest are in areas not frequented by autos. "We had a meeting with officials of oil companies. They say there is low demand and want all autos to be converted...before more auto gas stations are opened," says C R Mohammad Suleman, joint commissioner (transport), South Bangalore.
Auto drivers also complain that the retrofitted tanks are very expensive: the kits cost between Rs 14,500 and Rs 21,000. The td provides a subsidy of Rs 2,000 for vehicles registered from 1991 onwards, but this is too less. Besides, "The subsidy is given only in case a cash down payment is made, which few of us can afford. Otherwise, it is released to retrofitting centres and they have got no money so far," Someshekar explains.
Following the expiry of the deadline, auto drivers running vehicles that haven't made the switch are being fined Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000. "We earn only between Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000 and that is why we are taking time to install the tanks. But now our money is being spent in the fine," rues Mohammad Abbas, chairperson, Karnataka State Auto Drivers Joint Action Committee. The lobby of private gas agencies, which supply cylinders for commercial purposes illegally, is also believed to have a crucial role in the standoff. Union minister for food and civil supplies H S Mahadeva Prasad was quoted by the media as saying that task forces have been formed in each district to stop the misuse of lpg cylinders.
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