Tuesday, May 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Mafia that rules Haryana roads
From Raman Mohan

HISAR, May 29 — With more than 30,000 “killers” prowling its highways, road travel in Haryana is now among the riskiest in the country. These “killers” are its Maxi-cab jeeps ferrying passengers illegally everywhere in the state with the patronage of politicians.

Information collected by The Tribune shows that these vehicles accounted for half of the 3,800 odd lives lost in the state during 1999 in road accidents. The number of persons physically handicapped in accidents involving these vehicles was not officially known, but, according to unofficial sources their number is more than 3000. More than 10,000 persons were injured in road accidents and these vehicles accounted for half of these.

More importantly, the Maxi-cab mafia has drained the resources of the once profit-making Haryana Roadways. The state is estimated to be losing about Rs 500 crore annually on account of illegal ferrying of passengers by the mafia. Maxi-cabs carry some 45 lakh passengers a day.

Not only this, there are scores of cases in which senior transport officials and even policemen are assaulted by the drivers and conductors of these vehicles during checking. The incidents of assault have been increasing since the culprits manage to get away scot-free thanks to their political clout.

It is learnt that there are about 12,000 licensed Maxi-cabs (jeeps holding licences for ferrying passengers) in the state. The number of Maxi-cabs plying without valid licences is in the range of 20,000. Most of the drivers are illiterate village youths without a commercial or even a private driving licences.

The racket began in Hisar in the early 1980s when some of the then ruling party politicians purchased a few Matadors and began plying them on the Hisar-Hansi route illegally. This turned out to be a profitable venture and the racket slowly spread to other parts of the state. By the early 1990s, the racket has assumed state-wide proportions.

At first politicians owned these vehicles and hired supporters to operate these on salary basis. They earned handsome returns on their investment. However, the mushrooming of private financing companies in the nineties changed the rules of the game. These companies began offering loans to unemployed youths for purchase of jeeps at interest rates varying between 36 to 45 per cent.

Since the returns were good, the jobless rural youth jumped at the opportunity and purchased new vehicles for which they had to pay on an average a monthly instalment of Rs 25,000.

Sensing diminishing returns due to increase competition, the politicians changed tack. Instead of owning the vehicles, they began to charge a fixed amount from Maxi-cub operators in return for protection and patronage. This ranged from Rs 2,000 to 5,000 per month per vehicle. The modus operandi was simple yet efficient. The politicians issued coded slips to the operators, which were shown to the police during the course of checking.

However, these youths soon realised that the economics of the vehicle did not leave them with much cash in hand. The high rate of interest, the cost of running and protection money given to politicians left them with nothing to pay back the principal on their loans. When repayments stopped, financiers hired goons to repossess their vehicles leading to violent clashes and police cases all over the state.

By the early 1990s, as the number of these vehicles grew, the operators realised that their strength lay in numbers. Forced by marginal profits, they now began to assert themselves and used their collective strength to stop payment of monthlies to politicians. Instead, they sought their patronage now in return for votes of their families. Different political parties then began promising them licences to run their vehicles legally once they came to power.

Ultimately the Maxi-cab scheme was launched and the youths given an opportunity to legalise their business. Many did so. But by then criminal elements had taken charge of the business and the Maxi-cab operators became the new kings of the road.

Maxi-cabs carry an average of 15 persons at a time whereas licensed cabs are allowed to carry only nine passengers. The vehicles are driven at breakneck speeds in order to make more trips and pick up passengers before a competitor does. Vehicles are not maintained properly due to lack of funds resulting in sudden breakdowns and serious accidents. Utter chaos and lawlessness prevail on important roads with the drivers not thinking twice before roughing up motorists who do not allow them to overtake. Transport and police officials are given the treatment should they try to stop them.

The situation has come to such a pass that the mafia virtually controls the state’s roads. It makes its own rules and is above the law.

A senior police officer said efforts were being made to restore order on the roads and control the activities of the mafia. However, he admitted that political interference and support from the villagers were major hindrances in the way of the police. He attributed the recent spurt in assaults on policemen and transport officials to attempts being made to book the mafia.

However, Transport Department officials say unless bus services improve, the Maxi-cabs will rule the roads. If buses become available, nobody will want to ride a Maxi-cab. But he admitted that it was a vicious circle since Haryana Roadways can improve services only if it gets revenue now being pocketed by the mafia.

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