Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Commuters in the capital city of Odisha on Thursday faced considerable inconvenience as thousands of auto-rickshaws and taxis remained off the roads in view of protest by the drivers.

Around 10,000 auto-rickshaw and car drivers under the aegis of Smart City Online Auto Association launched the agitation in protest against alleged humiliation by agitating bus drivers on Wednesday.

The agitating drivers staged dharnas at Lower PMG and Janpath in the Capital City Bhubaneswar.

As per the allegations by some Auto-rickshaw drivers, they didn’t join the strike called by the Drivers’ Association on Wednesday. As a result, they were humiliated. 

While some auto drivers were providing auto services to passengers who wanted urgent services, their pictures were allegedly captured with derogatory remarks on placards. Some of the auto drivers were garlanded with the intention to be insulted.

“We were given assurances by the Commissionerate Police for the safety and security while running our vehicles during the drivers’ strike. However, we have been insulted. We demand stern actions against the drivers who insulted our auto-rickshaw drivers,” said Dinabandhu Nayak, President of Smart City Online Auto Association.

“We have been staging the protests peacefully so far. If our demands are not met, we will intensify our strike,” said Dinabandhu.

On the other hand, the Odisha Drivers’ Mahasangha continued its protest for the second day to press for 10-point charter of demands, crippling the public transport services in the state.

The agitators staged protests throughout the night yesterday by sitting on national Highways across the State. Several trucks have been halted along the National Highways in Sambalpur and Bhubaneswar due to the protests. Balasore is facing an acute shortage of fuel as petrol tankers were not allowed to enter the city due to the ongoing agitations.  

Meanwhile reacting to the drivers’ protests in Odisha, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to consider the demands of the Drivers’ Association and take immediate measures.

“Driver friends have started protests in Odisha for the last two days. It has affected public transportation to some extent,” Pradhan tweeted.

“Driver friends have an important role to play in the society. They are not untouchables in the society. They are among us. The State government is not coming out with necessary solutions by initiating proper discussion with them. It is not a good sign for democracy,” he further tweeted.

Meanwhile, the drivers’ strike has a direct impact on the market. The prices of vegetables, fruits and some other essential commodities have skyrocketed due to the ongoing protests across the State.

Several trucks laden with fruits, vegetables and other essential commodities have remained stranded at different places across the State for the last two days. As a result, the prices of those commodities have soared due to short supply. As per reports, several trucks have been halted at Jagmohanpur under Telkoi block in Keonjhar districts due to the agitations.

As per market experts, the prices will further skyrocket if the drivers continue their agitation for more days.

As per the latest report, the Smart City Online Auto Association has decided to withdraw their strike following a discussion with the Police Commissioner.

President of the association, Dinabandhu Nayak informed that they will lodge a police complaint against the drivers who had humiliated some members of their association on Wednesday.

The issue pertaining to the agitation by drivers also echoed in the Odisha Assembly. Speaker Bikram Kehsrai Arukha gave a ruling and asked Transport Minister Tukuni Sahu to initiate a discussion with the protesting drivers and apprise the Assembly about the development tomorrow.

The House was adjourned due to pandemonium by BJP and Congress MLAs during the Zero Hour of the Assembly. Following the adjournment, Speaker called an all-party meeting and asked Sahu to apprise the House about the discussion with the drivers tomorrow. The House was again adjourned till 4 pm after the meeting.