That corruption in India is rampant, no one will argue.
Transparency International’s latest global Corruption Perceptions Index shows India is now more corrupt than it was last year (CWG?), slipping down 3 ranks, from 84 to 87 (China is ranked 78).
Tellingly, the report also shows that the bulk of bribes are petty, and often made to get what is well within our rights – things like information, documents and timely service.
In other words, corruption begins at the bottom. These little ‘corruptures’ prepare us to take the big ones without getting hassled! No wonder we just talk corruption, laugh corruption and then go about our lives normally.
While corrupt overtures are experienced when we interact with government departments, these aren’t everyday affairs. The one place we experience it almost on a daily basis is in our commute. To work, to market, to school, to the railway station. It’s the kind of corruption that leaves us very very angry, and very very helpless.
I refer to the experience of using auto-rickshaws.
My calculation suggests that auto rickshaw drivers collectively mug us to the tune of Rs.1600 to 2000 crores a year. Yes, up to half a billion dollars a year!
This figure, mind you, is only for Bangalore, which boasts only 85,000 autos. Delhi and Chennai, where the number of autos are more than double of Bangalore, just imagine how mind-boggling the figure would be!
Here’s my calculation: Each auto in Bangalore ferries about 150km a day (this is straight from auto rickshaw drivers’ mouths). This includes 12-15% ferrying late in the night and early morning, when fares are 50% higher. All this adds up to about $1Billion or Rs.4,252 crores. This is legitimately due to them.
But they rip at least 40% extra (my estimate): 15-20% through rigged meters, and another 20-25% by demanding up to 100% extra illegitimately.
This makes the auto rickshaw drivers the most irreverently corrupt Indians. The worse however is that the city police do little to rein them in.
Every time I have to take a rick instead of my car, I have to mentally gear up for a fight. More often than not, it’s a mood spoiler – not the best way to get to work or destination
My colleague Avantika’s experience is far worse! She uses an auto every day, sometimes even four! She is completely disgusted with the event. In her long experience of having used a rick several thousand times in Bangalore alone, she’s developed a knack of spotting honest ones. “The aged ones and the Muslims are the most honest,” is her verdict. The other day, on being mugged by a Muslim rick driver, she threw the money on his face in disgust, scoffing that he is a blotch on his community!
Why are we, as citizens and police, helpless against these 85,000 auto-drivers? Can nothing be done to make them operate within the realm of law?
A few initiatives have been taken. Like, a police helpline number (always engaged or ringing), email ID (I’ve tried it a bit but never received any reply) and pre-paid kiosks at select places. A couple of months back some young netizens got together to launch a campaign called ‘meter-jam’, where members agreed not to hail an auto-rickshaw or taxi on August 12. http://mumbai.thecityfix.com/meter-jam-a-campaign-to-boycott-auto-rickshaws-and-taxis/ The campaign met with limited success, but I’m sure it will gather momentum over period.
I believe the auto rickshaw drivers have figured that we are helpless against their designs. So they go about their business as usual. Actually, not as usual. They are getting more and more rude, demanding and exploitative. Otherwise, how would you explain the following:
- Autos in Delhi refuse and accept to ferry you entirely on their convenience.
- Autos in Chennai are worse; they never go by the meter; demand whatever they want, and you have no choice but to take, or leave; all this right under the cops’ noses.
- The Bangalore auto guys used to be generally decent till a few years back. But city’s expansion and new found values imported from neighboring Chennai auto rickshaw driving comrades have made them bolder, and bad.
- The Bombay auto guys have been decent for very long, and my experience suggests that 80% of the times they are honest. But the malaise is seeping in there too.
Can we do something to control them? Can we work with the city police to rein in the auto-menace?
I believe we can use mobile phone technology to break the auto guys back. Here are three practical suggestions you may have never heard (hopefully):
Instead of making the auto rickshaws buy and install meters, accurate, tamper-proof meters should be rented to them. Two or three companies can be offered the contract to make such meters. The auto rickshaw may get their current meters replaced by these meters at these manufacturers’ service centers.
- Each meter can incorporate following features:
- SIM card that tracks location (GPS) and time;
- The fare shown is calculated by the meter automatically based on actual time and distance, through the SIM;
- The entire journey of the auto is tracked and stored in central server; and
- When the fare is revised, the meters can be re-configured directly through central server.
The meters can also display against each journey a unique reference number, visible next to the fare. In case, one has a compliant, only the reference numbers needs to be SMSed. The server can automatically trace the journey details, the auto rickshaw and its owner.
- 5 such SMSes from 5 different numbers immediately sends to auto rickshaw owner a warning from the police.
- At 10 SMSes, the auto-rickshaw owner is summoned to the police stations and fined.
- At 15, his auto-rickshaw is confisticated for seven days. And so on.
Auto rickshaws refusing to ferry you?
- The meters can be blue-tooth enabled. So we can pick up the auto’s unique serial number and SMS it as a complaint.
- Additionally, each auto can be mandated to display a six digit number across all its four sides. To complain, one only needs to SMS the 6 digit number.
- Auto complaint mobile application can be created; regular auto users can download it. To complain, all they have to do open the app, choose relevant fields – nature of complaint, ref no., etc, and submit. (30 million people in India access internet via mobile phones).
I believe, much of what I’ve mentioned is pretty simple stuff, and can be easily implemented. Remember, our capability in mobile space is the best in the world.
Yes, the suggested punishments are stiff.
But I believe that’s fair. Try evading tax, as an employer or an employee or as a businessman, and you’ll discover how quickly the law will catch up with you. All thanks to technology. Why should the auto rickshaw be allowed to get away?
Besides commuting ease, reining in the auto rickshaws will result in several other benefits as well. Like:
- More of us can leave behind our cars or two-wheelers at home, and hail a rick.
- Many of us will start using buses or trains often as we’ll be guaranteed to get a rick to and from the bus stop or station, without having to suffer excess fare or rude behavior.
- The state government can (the government will love this one), for the first time, track the actual size of the business, and at some stage even impose a tax!
If the irreverently corrupt auto rickshaw driver is reined in successfully, we’ll at least start expecting less corruption at the bottom. And who knows, this may propel us to do something about the corruption higher up!