Two days after Modi announced a multi-million-rupee Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, Rupani also came up with Atmanirbhar Gujarat Sahay Yojana, and shouted it from the rooftops promising easy and quick Rs 1-lakh loan at a nominal interest rate of 2 per cent to be repaid in three years
Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
AHMEDABAD – The Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled government in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat has taken nine lakh hard-pressed auto-rickshaw drivers for a ride with union leaders boiling with rage now threatening immolation if the solution to their gravamina continues to hang fire.
After the deadly coronavirus disease (covid) spread its tentacles to Gujarat, the Vijay Rupani administration had in May last tomtommed a Rs 1-lakh no-guarantors, hassle-free loan scheme for one million small traders, including down-at-heel automen, hit by the covid-induced lockdown but, surprisingly, only 826 rickshaw drivers were handed the financial aid recently after several months, say union leaders.
Gone down the drain are marathon efforts made by hundreds of cash-starved automen who stood in serpentine queues for hours on end under the scorching sun outside banks just to get the mind-boggling three-page application form asking for countless documents from the two lakh mostly-unlettered drivers of three-wheelers in Ahmedabad, besides seven lakh others who made a beeline for forms elsewhere in the state.
“The Chief Minister had said that no guarantors would be needed for the simple form and the loan would be given in a jiffy. But the banks wanted two guarantors with their papers and as many as 10 documents from the gullible applicants like PAN card, Aadhar card, ration card, business certificate, income certificate, labourer number, etc. The scheme was doomed to failure,” said rickshaw driver Naresh Rajput.
On May 12, in a bid to psych up crest-fallen people to become self-reliant in the corona crisis, Modi had trumpeted a Rs 20-lakh crore package under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan’. Within just two days, Rupani also came up with Atmanirbhar Gujarat Sahay Yojana, and shouted it from the rooftops promising an easy and quick Rs 1-lakh loan at a nominal interest rate of 2 per cent to be repaid in three years.
The announcement about the simple loan scheme had sent a wave of jubilation among the poverty-stricken rickshaw drivers, whose business had gone to rack and ruin due to fewer passengers in the lockdown. But soon, they were in doleful dumps because of a long wait at ill-managed cooperative banks just to collect the application form, non-availability or shortage of forms and delay in approval for the loan.
No wonder, leaders of the Jagrut Auto-rickshaw Drivers Union and Ahmedabad Railway Station Auto-rickshaw Drivers Union in a press statement have threatened to immolate themselves if their demands are not met soon.
Indeed, the two unions, through advocate K R Koshti, had also filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Gujarat high court seeking direction to the authorities to extend financial assistance to the city’s auto-rickshaw drivers, whose livelihood has been adversely affected by the lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic.
They had sought this assistance by citing Section 12 and 13 of the Disaster Management Act, which mandates the authorities to compensate for livelihood affected due to government decisions taken at the time of disaster.
The unions had contended in the PIL that the lockdown was imposed by invoking the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act, and therefore the government is liable to extend financial assistance to auto drivers.
Surat-based right-to-information activist Sanjay Ezhava also had to dash off a legal notice to the Chief Minister and Health Minister “for breaching the trust of the people”, saying the loans were not being disbursed as promised–without demanding guarantors or proofs.
“The poor people felt cheated because of false promises. With only 826 of the state’s nine lakh automen benefiting, it is crystal clear that the scheme was an eye-wash and encouraged corruption among higher officials in the name of helping the poor,” Ezhava told Clarion India.
According to Ashok Panjabi, head of the Congress cell for the unorganised sector, who has been taking up the cudgels for automen for the past several years through their unions, the Gujarat administration should take a cue from the governments in Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu who have shelled out Rs 5,000 to 10,000 to thousands of hard-up auto and taxi drivers in their states.