<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In 2013, when eight women, for the very first time, stepped outside the confines of their home and took the driver’s seat in commercial auto-rickshaws in Patna, passengers wondered whether they were visiting a metropolis where it was not so uncommon to see female auto-drivers.For a state like Bihar, it was a novelty. Auto-rickshaw unions, the district administration and the transport authorities combined their efforts to make it possible and promised all help to the women drivers. However, half of them eventually left the profession.Three years on, in April 2016, more than 100 women expressed an interest to take up commercial three-wheeler driving. Top administrative and traffic officials inaugurated the training programme and again promised help—facilitating driving licenses, getting road permits and coaxing banks to disburse, finance among other things. But, over six months after the training programme ended, all but five are yet to hit the roads.The reasons are many, but the major hindrance is denial of road permits to women auto-drivers. “The regional transport authority (RTA), despite promising to grant road permits to women drivers, has failed to do so,” said Raj Kumar Jha, general secretary of Bihar State Auto Chalak Sangh.Jha said it was the same in 2013, when the state government had assured tax benefits in registration and facilitation in issuing necessary permits commercial licenses to women drivers, but failed to do so, resulting in only eight of the 35 trained drivers hitting the roads.This time, a few of them are on the road without permits. Among them is Ranjana Chauhan, who rues the apathy of the government, which “so vocally promises women empowerment”. “Every day we are harassed by cops because we don’t have permits. After the training was complete, my loan was sanctioned by the bank. What would I have done if not plied an auto-rickshaw?” asks the mother of three who started in August and earns Rs 500-600 per day.Most women drivers operate only prepaid rickshaws, either from Patna airport or railway station. “Prepaid is safer. One cannot haggle with a male passenger at their destination,” says another female auto-driver. Listing other hiccups faced by them, another woman driver said the auto-stands do not have basic facilities. “Competing with male drivers for passengers and at times facing indecent behaviour from travellers also a deterrent for many,” she adds. Naveen Mishra, rued absence of female-only auto stands.
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