Guwahati: Revival Hopes of Private Taxis Dim Amid Durga Puja Restrictions | Guwahati News

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Guwahati: Revival Hopes of Private Taxis Dim Amid Durga Puja Restrictions

Nibir Deka | October 17, 2020 22:20 hrs


The Assam government on October 13 issued the guidelines for the Durga Puja celebrations. One of the norms of the guidelines includes the ban on pillion riding for males during the puja days.


Following the decision, the bike-taxi operators have opposed the move, which they claim is the ‘final nail in the coffin’ after months of low-income generation during the COVID-19 lockdown.


 

"It will impact heavily. The lockdown has already affected us,” said Rapido Captain, Bhargav Baruah. Baruah said that a lot of the riders had estimated the Durga Puja footfall to make up for the meager earnings during the lockdown. "Our target was Durga Puja. No one wanted to go back home this time as everyone saw this as a way out to pay their dues and EMIs," Baruah said.


Although the state government has allowed women or children below 15 years, the riders are skeptical of the exemption. "With the COVID-19 pandemic, female customers have reduced already. This won't make any difference," said a Rapido Captain.


To offset the losses caused by the lockdown, companies like Rapido had already partnered with food delivery apps such as Zomato and Swiggy to offer a source of alternative to their riders. However, they too see the move by the government as causing losses to the company and impacting the earning capacity of the riders. 


G Plus spoke to Rapido Guwahati Head, Suman Acharjee, who acknowledged the need to maintain the COVID-19 protocols by the government as necessary due to the circumstances of the viral pandemic. Nonetheless, he too admitted that the "Durga Puja business will be affected." On the matter of allowing only women and kids, the official said, "Since it is the holidays, working women will not be using the app as many will also leave the city."  


The opposition to this decision has also been raised at the union level with the All Assam Bike Taxi Union (ABTU) planning to write a letter to the government. G Plus spoke to Debojit Baishya, President, ABTU, who has questioned the government's decision. "My question is, can only men have corona?" said Baishya. He too spoke about the economic disruptions cause by the COVID-19, "Our boys can’t pay their EMIs and rent and now our puja business will be down. How will we survive?" 


Restrictions play spoilsport to hopes of cab operators


Apart from the bike operators, the drivers on the cab platforms such as Ola and Uber were too banking on the festivities to give them some respite from their losses. The guidelines released by the state government have not gone down well with the operators.


The closure of restaurants by 9 PM and deadline of 10 PM for Puja pandals to close will mean subdued celebrations. Meanwhile, the cab operators were expecting the fares generated in the festival to compensate for a slow year for the business. "We were banking on Puja as the year has been a disaster since February. Now we don't even earn Rs 200 and Rs 300 a day," said Afrad Hussain who hails from Goalpara. 


Another side income for the cab operators was the occasional trips to Meghalaya, which now has halted as tourist activities have not resumed. During the season, a host of tourists enter the northeast via the Guwahati Airport. The airport to city travel has been restricted ever since the lockdown. “This is the time of the puja season but so far there has been nothing this year,” said an Uber driver. 


Moreover, the rise of fuel prices and road tax along with commercial insurance has affected them badly amid lower sales.


The All Assam Cab Operator Association (AACOA) has claimed 'government apathy' with regard to their problems. "We cab drivers are suffering since the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). After that came COVID-19. We were hopeful for the Durga Puja but the restrictions have made us sad," said Ismail Ali, President AACOA. 


The association has given a memorandum to the state government and at the labour commissioner’s office. "We have demanded that the government provide us compensation at least for the EMI and the road tax but none of our demands have been met so far," said Ali.


Many of the drivers have failed to pay their EMIs and as such they have been forced to sell their cars. "I am also planning to sell. Everyone is selling their cars. There is also pressure coming from the banks as the cars will be seized,” said Afrad.


The effects of the economic shock have trickled down differently for the people. While the owners are facing the EMI and tax problems, drivers are worse off as they are paid on trip basis.  


"We are somehow managing the EMI but my drivers are affected more than me,” said Manas Bhattacharya, who is small scale operator. “There is no way out of this situation as we have to follow the guidelines due to the virus but everything is finished,” added Bhattacharya. He further rejected the notion that Ola and Uber are giving occupations to the youth. “Ola and Uber have never given any occupation. The unemployed are just plying this trade; this is not real employment,” added the proprietor. 


As per a few of the drivers, some of the cabbies have now sold their cars and started selling vegetables. "You can't become independent by driving a car now. I used to work in a private company and will now go back," said a cab driver.
 

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