Drivers of autorickshaws must have passed 8th standard in order to obtain their licence and badge. Is there any merit in this policy?
By Anupam Manur (@anupammanur)
Auto drivers across the country have staged many protests against the central government with regard to a specific rule in the Central Motor Vehicles Act. Section 8 of this Act after the 2007 amendment specifies: “Where the application is for a licence to drive a transport vehicle, no such authorisation shall be granted to any applicant unless he possesses such minimum educational qualification as may be prescribed by the Central Government…”.
The point of contention between the auto drivers and the central government is the prescribed minimum educational qualifications required in order to obtain a driver’s licence and a badge, which is set as passing 8th standard. The rationale behind this rule is that the auto drivers and to a larger extent, drivers of transport vehicles, which includes cabs and other “public service vehicles”, are constantly in touch with the public and thus, it would make them better equipped to serve them. The other reason given is that it would enable them to understand the traffic rules better.
As can be expected, this rule has not gone down well with many autorickshaw drivers and they found political support last year when Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party rallied to their cause. In fact, AAP designed the stickers that are put up behind many autorickshaws in Bangalore, which reads “If it is fine for you (politicians), why should we pass 8th standard?”
The auto drivers argue that the 8th standard pass clause is quite redundant and discriminatory in nature. Each person, in order to acquire a licence, needs to get an interim learner’s licence first and then a formal driver’s licence. At both stages, the applicant has to pass an exam and while the latter tests the actual driving skill of the applicant, the former is a theoretical tests about road signs, traffic rules and sometimes, even traffic etiquette. Thus, in order to obtain the learner’s licence, the applicant necessarily needs to know how to read and write, which eliminates the need for having a compulsory submission of their educational qualification. In addition, almost all the traffic rules are signs and symbols that are universally understood.
Further, many auto drivers have argued that if they had indeed studied upto 8th standard, they wouldn’t be driving an auto in the first place. Instead, they would have been better placed to be working in higher paying jobs.
In an AAP rally in Bangalore, Kejriwal sympathised with the auto drivers, while simultaneously bringing in the corruption angle. He mentioned that an 8th standard pass certificate can be bought for around Rs.20,000 and thereby, the rule allows for rent-seeking and corruption.
The bigger question is that of equity: whether it is fair to marginalise the uneducated and remove an income earning option available to them. Most auto drivers choose the profession because it does not require them to be educated. By setting a rule such as this, they are being deprived of an honest income earning opportunity.
However, there is one thing to wary of in the AAP campaign on behalf of the auto drivers. While there seems to be no merit in imposing minimum educational qualification to obtain a licence, their counter-argument can be dangerous. “If politicians who run the country do not require minimum educational qualifications, why should we”, is their main refrain. This was witnessed by the statement given by an AAP leader in Bangalore:
“”Going by the logic of Class 8 qualification for auto drivers, a corporator cation for auto drivers, a corporator should at least have passed SSLC as he has the responsibility of interacting with at least 20,000 people in his ward. An MLA should have passed PU, a minister should hold a degree, the CM a master’s and the prime minister should be a scientist”
The merits and demerits of introducing minimum educational qualifications for politicians is best kept for another day. While one would want their law makers to be reasonable educated, it also strikes at the heart of democracy and the Indian republic, which has promised franchise for every citizen of India, without any discrimination. The Indian electoral system allows for any person to stand for election, even if they have not passed primary school. Finally, if an auto driver can obtain a fake certificate for Rs.20,000, the politicos might find it significantly easier to do the same.
While education for all should be encouraged, there seems to be little merit in making it a compulsory professional qualification in this case.
Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at the Takshashila Institution