Citizens' Issues
An auto-rickshaw driver who embodies the very spirit of Mumbai

Meet a David who faces many invisible Goliaths—but he continues his journey undeterred, putting up a brave face in this unforgiving metropolis—and has a value system that our ‘leaders’ would do well to follow

A schoolmate of mine settled abroad after finishing his post-graduate studies in India. After a long time, he visited India with his wife to spend some time with his relatives.

He sent me an email about an auto-rickshaw trip in Mumbai. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But read on patiently and I promise you a heart-moving experience.

Here goes the text of the email: "One Sunday, my wife, and I had to travel to Andheri from Bandra. When I waved at a passing auto-rickshaw, little did I expect that this ride would be any different...

"As we set off, my eyes fell on a few magazines (kept in an aircraft-style pouch) behind the driver's backrest. I looked in front and there was a small TV. The driver had put on the Doordarshan channel.

"My wife and I looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of me was a small first-aid box with cotton, Dettol and some medicines. This was enough for me to realise that I was in a special vehicle.

"Then I looked round again, and discovered more-there was a radio, fire-extinguisher, wall clock, calendar, and pictures and symbols of all faiths from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

"There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11-Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan. I realised that not only my vehicle, but my driver also was special. I started chatting with him and the initial sense of ridicule and disbelief gradually diminished.

"I gathered that he had been driving an auto-rickshaw for the past 8 to 9 years; he had lost his job when his employer's plastic-goods company was shut down. He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night.

"No break—unless he was unwell. "Sahab, ghar me in baith ke TV dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaama ayega. (What is the point in sitting at home and watching TV? If I earn a few paise, then I can make some use of it in the future)."

"We realised that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai-the spirit of work, the spirit of travel and the spirit of excelling in life.

"I asked him whether he does anything else as I figured that he did not have too much spare time. He said that he goes to an old-age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates toothbrushes, toothpastes, soap, hair oil, and other items of daily use.

"He pointed out to a painted message below the meter that read: '25% discount on metered fare for the handicapped. Free rides for blind passengers up to Rs50.'

"My wife and I were struck with awe. The man was a hero! A hero who deserves all our respect!!!

"Our journey came to an end. Forty-five minutes of a lesson in humility, selflessness, and of a hero-worshipping Mumbai, my temporary home. We disembarked, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride for a blind man.

"I hope, one day, you too have a chance to meet Mr Sandeep Bachhe in his
auto-rickshaw: MH-02-Z-8508."

Yes, my videshi friend, the man is a hero in a little way. But there are hundreds of millions of 'small' men like him who are also heroes.

Every day they have to battle invisible Goliaths; in the form of avaricious policemen who will rip away earnings; in the form vote-seeking politicians who will grab his home and donate it to one of his followers; in the form and mullah-maddened jihadis who will rip his guts out with a bomb, leaving his children orphaned.

But then, why wish him ill? We should wish him the best of luck and pray that he does not have to face these invisible Goliaths.  

(R Vijayaraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected]).



Mumbai Events

6 years ago

Mumbai auto driver's have been receiving a lot of flak in the last 2 months.

This is a rare story which puts the Mumbai auto driver in a good light.

In fact, Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption has started a new initiative for complaint against Mumbai Autorickshaw drivers.


6 years ago

As long as MH-02-Z-8508 has not tampered with the meter/fuel. Indians are always at their best behaviour with abroad return / westeners. Recently I came across a man who along with his wife and child was asking people at Marine Drive for Rs 50 so that they could go home. At first I gave him Rs 10.Then he asked for more so I gave him Rs 20 with an annoying sort of look. He could have thanked me and walked away but he returned Rs 10 and kept Rs 20.Then he moved on ahead to another person sitting ahead. I found his gesture of returning my ten rupees heart moving.Spirit of Mumbai

RIL to suspend gas supply to 4 fertiliser plants from tomorrow

The fertiliser firms, which produce about 2 million tonnes of urea from gas sourced from RIL, are opposed to providing financial guarantees in the form of letters of credit to cover for liabilities arising out of the levy of local sales tax on gas sales, as it would increase the cost of production and subsidy payouts

New Delhi: Reliance Industries (RIL) has served a notice for suspension of gas supplies to four fertiliser plants in Uttar Pradesh from Thursday unless they enhance their financial guarantees to cover for state sales tax, reports PTI.

RIL on 1st October served a notice for suspension of supplies to plants of Indo Gulf Fertiliser, IFFCO, KRIBHCO, Shyam Fertilisers and Tata Chemicals from 0600 hours Thursday, sources privy to the development said.

The fertiliser firms, which produce about 2 million tonnes of urea from gas sourced from RIL, are opposed to providing financial guarantees in the form of letters of credit (LC) to cover for liabilities arising out of the levy of local sales tax on gas sales, as it would increase the cost of production and subsidy payouts.

RIL supplies some 4 million metric standard cubic metres per day (mmscmd) of natural gas from its eastern offshore KG-D6 fields to these plants. Like elsewhere in the country, it has been charging central sales tax of 2% from users in Uttar Pradesh.

However, the state government has refused to accept these transactions as inter-state sales and have demanded that local sales tax of 21% should be paid. Tax as the liability of consumers has been clearly enshrined in the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPAs) RIL signed with fertiliser and other users.

Naturally, users should have contested the demand for higher sales tax, but strangely, RIL went to the Allahabad High Court challenging the demand. The High Court on 26 July 2010 stayed the Uttar Pradesh government demand. The state government has appealed against the stay in Supreme Court.

Sources said RIL is demanding that users in Uttar Pradesh enhance the value of their Letters of Credit, which were previously submitted as guarantees against default, to cover for payments in case the state sales tax liability was to materialise.

So far, state power utility NTPC is the only firm that has enhanced its LC, while fertiliser firms have not complied with RIL's demand so far, leading to the notice for suspension of supplies.

While the fertiliser firms refused comments, the Fertiliser Association of India (FAI) has shot off letters to the oil and fertiliser ministry protesting against the RIL move.

In an 3rd October letter, FAI director general Satish Chander said there was no need for enhancing the LCs as the Supreme Court has not vacated the stay given by the Allahabad High Court.

"Any increase in the limit of LC will increase the cost of domestic urea production and has a direct bearing on the subsidy payable by the government. The demand of RIL for a higher LC is totally unjustified," he wrote.

RIL had last year, too, threatened to suspend supply to the fertiliser plants with effect from 15 July 2010 if the value of their LCs were not raised.

While the threat was executed, RIL has again issued the notice because the tax liability, in case the Uttar Pradesh government's demand is upheld, amounts to a whopping Rs750 crore.

While Mr Chander asked for the intervention of oil secretary GC Chaturvedi and fertiliser secretary Sutanu Behuria in the matter, sources said RIL has also informed the oil ministry of the notice for suspension of supplies.

Mr Chander said any disruption in RIL gas supply will affect production of urea, whose demand has been 'very good' because of heightened agricultural activity on the back of the good monsoon.

"Any loss in production of urea will have to be met through higher imports. We will be substituting low cost urea production in the country by a very high cost of imported urea. The country will end up paying heavily through the exchequer," he wrote.

Fertiliser companies would also be liable to pay a penalty under the 'ship or pay' clause of their Gas Transportation Agreements with Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure (RGTIL) and state-owned GAIL India.

"The Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) has allocated the gas to fertiliser units on a priority basis for full capacity utilisation of urea plants in view of fertiliser being an essential input for agriculture. RIL's decision to unilaterally decide to stop the supply of gas to fertiliser plants in UP is unjustified and also violative of the decision of the EGoM," he added.


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