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Bhubaneswar auto drivers with a cause double up as blood donors and ambulance drivers 

Dinabandhu Nayak, President of the Smart City Online Auto Association Bhubaneswar with other members

Ask residents of Indian metros about what they feel about auto rickshaws, a sizable majority will pour out their complaints against them. Yet there is an exception, which is evident in Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar, where the Smart City Online Auto Association has made a sea change in the way commuters and people perceive the “notorious” auto drivers.

Members of SCOAA not only ferry their passengers with courtesy and smile but ensure that their journey is safe. Not only that, in case any person forgets his or her belonging in the auto, rest assured it will be duly returned. “One of the rules of the Association is that anything a commuter leaves behind must be returned. The driver tries to track down the passenger concerned and on failing, the object, it may be a bag, suitcase or computer or wallet, is handed over to the police. When the concerned passenger calls us, we direct the individual to the police station,” revealed Dinabandhu Nayak, the founder and spirit behind this Association, to India Narrative.

The auto drivers of the Association waiting for passengers with whom they are told to be courteous and well-mannered

When asked what made him start this union, he said though he never wanted to become an auto driver, circumstances forced him to. “I found that drivers would fight with passengers and also amongst themselves, they would drink and eve-teasing was rampant. Their image was completely tarnished. While the earnings were decent, no one felt pride in being an auto driver. With aggregators coming in, there was constant strife between drivers of aggregators and others.”

With PM Narendra Modi giving a call for smart cities, Nayak wondered how Bhubaneswar could be smart if people were not. “In 2016 I formed the body with just 20 members and today we have 40,000 on the rolls. All members with details of their Aadhar card, PAN and licence etc are registered. To bring about a behavioural change, drivers were counselled and told to stop fighting and drinking, be courteous and honest and not indulge in any wrong doing,” Nayak told IN.

With pride in his voice, Nayak informed India Narrative, “Today we are not seen as drivers but as social workers. Our members offer free rides to the specially-abled and blind. Whenever we see any person with a disability, we do this. We also rush road accident victims in autos without waiting for an ambulance or police, to the nearest hospital, get the treatment started, contact cops and inform family members.”

SCOAA3 Blood donation
The drivers of SCOAA are available 24×7 to donate blood

Going beyond all this, the members are available 24×7 to donate blood. “Our numbers are provided in hospitals and blood banks, and whosoever wants blood can contact us. We coordinate and immediately rush donors,” disclosed Nayak.

After their duty hours, many drivers pick up leftover food in marriage reception parties and functions and distribute it among the hungry. “This way precious food is not wasted and the needy are fed,” Nayak commented.

All this has changed the way people and police see auto drivers in Bhubaneswar now. “Police don’t trouble or bother us as we help them and ensure that there is no problem caused by auto drivers while passengers now enjoy a carefree and relaxed ride,” Nayak said.

Purusottam Behera a member for the past five years is glad that he joined them SCOAA. “I feel very happy and satisfied when people, especially women, children and disabled, see us as friends. We are now seen as members of society who help others and make them happy.”

SCOAA4 Purushottam Behera
Purushottam Behera, a member of SCOAA said that the Association has made a difference in the lives of auto drivers

Behera told India Narrative that each member pays Rs.200 as registration fee while monthly contribution is Rs.50. “In case a driver meets with an accident, the Association provides money for treatment and in case of death or permanent injury, a sum of Rs.30,000 is given. Children of members who are eager to study are provided help and encouraged to become doctors, engineers and professionals.”

Nayak is not resting on his laurels. The SCOAA has approached authorities to issue a fare chart and also install meters in every auto. At present passengers use shared autos or those booked online. For exclusive rides, they negotiate the fare with the driver. “Without meter, some overcharge and fleece the passengers which is not correct,” remarked Nayak.