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Friday, 30 April 2010

The Story of Delhi Autowallah(s)

After having been verbally lynched about his lack of knowledge about cars; desperately hoping to prove that he was not a pseudo car-fanatic; and that all his talks about being fascinated by cars were not farce, S sees a car from the auto we were traveling in and said,

"This is quite a costly car"

The Autowallah
(autodriver) who was silently driving the auto until then decided to join in the verbal-lynching of S, and asked innocently,

"How much does it cost, bhaiya?"

S: "f-o-u-r-t-e-e-n Lakh!"
AW: "Only 14 Lakh. My auto is worth 4.5 Lakh"

However, as we implored deeper we found some rather sad truths about the story, as according to the Autowallah...

Government commissioned autos are worth 1.4 Lakh. But you never get them.
Government commissioned loan for buying auto is given at 8-9% pa. But you never get it. So our AW had taken a loan from private firm at 17% pa.

Given the fact that our Autowallah, Pradeep wasn't a dumba** (he is doing his BA from IGNOU) I guess there is some truth to the whole story.

Soon, we switched back to lighter conversation. He tells us that he is just 25 years old, and the oldest member in his village of 1000 families yet to be married. And he is no hurry.

"The problem is that I will have to get married with someone from my village itself. Add to that the fact that I will have no choice in deciding my bride. My mother and father will decide this. And they will look only at the money..."

We all sighed at this. However, oblivious of this he continued

"Now the problem with that is: A girl who brings in a lot of money also brings a lot of pride with her, she will not be willing to learn anything easily. Like if she is uneducated and I want to teach her, she wouldn't listen to me..."

Pradeep continued to tell us several other things about his life and village while I drifed back to my conversations with several other autowallahs over a past few weeks

One was from Bihar. His family was in Bihar. He was a school dropout. Currently he earns about Rs. 500-600 each day of which he has to pay 300 to the auto owner, commonly referred to as Malik.

I forget the origin of the other guy, but he works as a shoe salesman in a lady's shoe shop during the day time; and as an autowallah during the morning and evening. He sincerely hopes that his break-back hard work will lead him somewhere in life.

The third autowallah told me a lot about how he was thinking about getting married so that he had someone who can cook for him. Currently he plies an auto the whole day; and eats in one of the countless roadside dhabas. However, he was worried about the fact that where would he keep his wife. He has no money to rent home!

While I was racking my brain remembering the names of all these 3 people, and getting into the guilt-mire on not remembering them; I suddenly remembered what one AW said to me, while he took me from HZM to IIT Delhi; after I asked him (particularly born out of his non-haggling behavior):

"I see you are different from others bhaiya, how are you so smiling and happy?"
"What's there in life but to be happy"

We are at our destination, DPS RKP School, and I hear the autowallah say,

"If this government could have done something for a man like me, I would have been happy"


  1. Nice insight into the lives of autowallas. Some facts that I would like to add:
    1. The 300 that you talked about that they have to pay to the malik is not right. Its 250 for the day shift (7:00 am to 7:00pm ideally) and 200 for the night shift for the same auto.
    2. In delhi because so many autos run with faulty or no meter, you will have a hard time finding one to go to places like airport which are full of [i]thullas[/i]
    3. One thing that is rude about autos in delhi is that, this is the only place i have seen in india where when you ask "bhaiya ____ chaloge?" you can expect an answer "nahi" very often.then if you ask "kyun ,kya ho gaya?". they reply "nahi bas nahi jana". so annoying!
    4. i think the ideal solution in delhi is: Autos should be from stand to doorsteps. or from stand to stand with fix rates (like the system in mumbai, where you are actually auto pooling. rate per savari for a fixed distance is fixed say 5 rupees. so you just sit in the auto, wait for it to fill which happens very fast and the auto shoots.get down pay him the standard.the auto goes and joins the line on that stand.
    5. Another thing I learnt from a conversation with a certain autowalla is that delhi autos are soon going to move to electricity-based. So auto owners have started planning to sell these cng autos to buyers on the outskirts of delhi.

  2. 1. I believe it must vary. Because what I have written in almost verbatim (only converted from Hindi to English). Though I believe your stats are correct (for the remaining 2 aws said so)

    2. 2 days ago, a thulla stopped the auto (sans meter) I was coming in and traveled 3-4 km for free in it. I asked the AW if they (thullas)don't care for meter anymore - he said NO. Only when koi abhiyan chal raha ho

    3. Totally agree

    4. Nice suggestion, but then

    a) Very few autos will run on less frequented routes

    b) For long distance traveling we would need to change autos a lot of time

    Such system of Autos is already functional in Noida.

    5) Now this is something new!

  3. What tejesh said is right but, I feel that autowalas are just trying to earn more by denying to go to some places. It happens that they might not get return passengers or because of high traffic more CNG will get wasted. They earn around 300-500 per day, which is not enough to sustain a family in Delhi.

    I happen to be in the same auto with nishant, it was very disappointing to see a student doing his graduation driving an auto-rickshaw. There are other good things that he can do, and the government and we are loosing good talents just because we can not provide enough opportunities.

  4. I think driving auto isn't too bad in itself; if the support system can improve especially in terms of easier loans and reduced buying costs.

    The system is already there. It needs to be made running. The situation will improve when they will have mental peace. They will have mental peace when the money is enough. When the money is enough the status will come...

  5. Anshul Mittal3 May 2010 at 01:43

    Sorry to intrude this space but I happened to walk by this space and couldn't help but notice this interesting discussion. Given that I have talked to several Autowallas myself, I would like to add some facts here.

    Firstly, the 500-600 daily earning is not necessarily the trend. Many autowallas tend to earn much more than that (given that they leave no stone unturned in overcharging the customer) and they have some pretty innovative ways to do so. For example, one autowalla once told me that at nights, he waits outside hep markets for horny couples so that he can overcharge them for doing "stuff" in his auto.

    Secondly, 500/day or 13000/month (assuming 5 holidays) is not meagre by any standards (an average call centre employee gets around 15k and a sales rep in a bank gets around 10k). As for supporting one's education by driving an auto, I think Nishant is right. There is nothing wrong with it but the perception about it has to be changed. We don't have any problem when we have to work as a waiter or a cleaner abroad to support our grad studies, then why have a problem here? Not everyone can have the same means and this should be seen as an opportunity than a burden. Our government does not have enough funds right now to guarantee college education to everyone. May be one day but not right now.

    Thirdly, as for the cost of the auto the deal is not as easy as it sounds. As one autowalla explained to me, the government has stopped releasing permits for new autos for several years now (around 10), thus, giving birth to a black market where these permits are sold. Thus the cost of an auto has gone up from 1.4 to 4.5 lakhs. Now, the clan of autowallas are divided into 2 parts - those who have their own auto and those who rent it. While the latter want more permits to be released so that the rents go down, the former don't want that to happen since that would mean that the market price of their autos will plummet overnight. Both the lobbies are equally strong and it is very difficult for the government to take any affirmative step.

  6. Well, Anshul - Welcome :)

    That's a new addition: I had never thought that methods get that innovative!

    Infact, you have said things in a better way that I could have! (You should start blogging :P)

    However, one point remains which is that out of Rs 500-600 per day (let's assume that to be an average earning): Rs. 250 goes out to the Malik and Rs. 100-150 goes out to CNG! Thus what remains makes it very difficult for AWs to accumulate money to buy an auto of their own...