Amid indications that the 'Mumbai dream' is turning sour for migrant workers amid the lockdown, many of them driving taxis and auto rickshaws in the city have left for their native places in their vehicles, union sources said. They pegged the number of 'kaali peeli' taxis and autos leaving the city at around 1000 and 5000 respectively.
A cyclist on the Mumbai-Agra highway told PTI that he saw migrants travelling in trucks, auto rickshaws and bikes on way to their native places in central and north India. Union officials said with increasing possibility of further extension of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, several auto and taxi drivers are going to their native places in their black and yellow coloured auto rickshaws and taxis.
A L Quadros of the Mumbai Taximens Union said over 1000 black and yellow taxis and 5000 auto rickshaws from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have left the region. There are around 45000 black and yellow cabs and around 5 lakh auto rickshaws in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, he said.
"Due to the lockdown for almost two months, the cabbies and auto drivers are left with no money and hence instead of dying without food here, they are preferring to go to their native place," said Quadros. According to union leaders, the cabbies and auto rickshaw drivers are leaving Mumbai in groups of 20 to 50 or more and are headed to UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, while some cabbies are also going to Karnataka. "After another extension of the lockdown and the easing of restrictions on migrants, the auto drivers started to travel back to their native places in their auto rickshaws in groups since last week," said K K Tiwari, leader of the Swabhiman Taxi-Rickshaw Union.
Shashank Rao, leader of Mumbai Auto Rickshawmens Union said that as bus and truck drivers were asking for exorbitant fare, the drivers are preferring to take their own vehicles to travel back home as these are anyway going to remain parked in Mumbai if they travel by any other mode of transport.
"Packing their luggage, a few drivers are travelling with families, while many drivers, who have their families at their native place, are going with other drivers and friends," said Rao. According to union leaders, taxi and auto drivers are going to native places sans any e-pass issued by the police, as they consider it a time and money consuming task.
RTO officials said auto and taxi permit holders are allowed to travel to native places by getting online temporary permits, which are valid for a few months. Quadros said Maharashtra government should issue a notification and waive the temporary permit condition for taxis and autos till things normalise.
"The drivers don't have necessary facilities like internet connection and printers to get online permits, and the transport department cannot issue these offline due to staff shortage," said Quadros. Sujit Singh, an auto driver from Mumbai's Vakola area, said he left for Uttar Pradesh in a group of about 50 auto rickshaws from their area on Saturday and on Monday morning reached Madhya Pradesh, travelling via Nashik.
"There is no sign of lifting of lockdown and the condition due to coronavirus is worsening further. Hence I decided to return to my native place," said Singh, adding that they had applied for e-pass but they did not get it so they are carrying health certificates with them to show to police and other authorities if they ask.
Singh said the group did not face any issues enroute except police checkups at a couple of locations before Nashik. "We did not face any issue while entering MP as well. In fact, the police there offered us food which was arranged with the help of some organisations," he added.