September 17, 2023

Bihar: Auto & E-Rickshaw Workers Strike Evokes Good Response

Arun Kumar Mishra

THE ongoing metro construction work in Patna has led to significant displacement among daily wage earners, especially auto and e-rickshaw drivers, pavement vendors, and other small-scale traders. The continuous construction of flyovers, road widening, and underground tunnels for the metro rail has brought suffering to the countless slum dwellers, who form a significant portion of the urban population. They provide various services and even contribute to the urban economy's GDP. Auto owners, drivers, e-rickshaw owners, and drivers play a vital role in transporting commuters across the city at affordable fares. In Patna, the general populace typically relies on shared autos and e-rickshaws, while only the more affluent residents opt for OLA and Uber bookings.

On September 1, the Patna municipal corporation authorities, in collaboration with the metro management, conducted a sudden operation targeting auto-drivers and e-rickshaw operators at Tata Park, an old auto-stand located near the Patna railway junction, and forcefully removed them from the area. Subsequently, a prominent leader from CITU, Pappu Yadav, was arrested, and the entire vicinity was sealed off. This unilateral decision by the city administration and the metro management to evacuate the Tata Park stand sparked outrage among the entire community of auto and e-rickshaw owners and drivers, leading to spontaneous protests and work stoppage. Since September 2nd, other auto and e-rickshaw drivers operating in various parts of Patna City have joined the struggle.

This was clearly evident on September 4th when thousands of auto and e-rickshaw drivers, organiSed by the Patna Jila Auto Chalak Sangh (CITU) and All India Road Transport Workers Federation Bihar unit, staged a demonstration outside the district magistrate's office. They were joined by members of the Patna Hawkers and Vendors Union in significant numbers. This demonstration highlighted the unity among the urban poor, laying the foundation for broader solidarity among the vulnerable and marginaliSed sections, particularly the slum dwellers who bear the burdens of smart city development, often at the expense of the gated and affluent communities within the city.

The seven representatives from CITU and AICCTU-led unions, including Raj Kumar Jha, general secretary of the All India Road Transport Workers Federation Bihar committee, leaderS of Patna Jila Auto Chalak Sangh, Pappu Yadav, Bijli Prasad, and AICCTU leaders, met with the deputy chief secretary of the Bihar government to present their demands. However, they did not receive a positive response. Consequently, a complete strike was enforced on September 5, bringing the entire city to a standstill.

While the strike has caused significant difficulties for daily commuters, office-goers, and especially daily wage earners, the administration remains unresponsive. They have not offered an alternative site near the Railway Station. CITU and other leading organisations in the movement are determined to continue their struggle until their demands are met. The successful strike and the widespread arrest of union workers by the police have further solidified the unity among the movement's leaders, and they have now decided to stage a relay fast. Regardless, they intend to resume work from the same stand. However, in the interim, the local administration intervened.

Following lengthy negotiations with the administration, auto-rickshaws and e-rickshaws have been permitted to operate from the Tata Park area until separate arrangements are finalised. Raj Kumar Jha addressed the press and extended congratulations for the successful strike by auto and e-rickshaw workers. He expressed gratitude to the hawkers and pavement vendors for their participation in the strike and also thanked the CITU and CPI(M) leadership for their guidance and active involvement in the movement.

Throughout the course of the movement, CITU president Ganesh Shankar Singh and vice president Arun Kumar Mishra maintained constant communication with the movement's organisers and actively participated in their daily activities. On September 5th, CITU leader and CPI(M) district secretary Manoj Chandravanshi stood by the arrested workers until their release. This gesture has sent a highly positive message to the wider community of auto and e-rickshaw workers and has created an opportunity to strengthen the organisation on both organisational and ideological fronts.