This post is part of a series on auto-rickshaws.
To start driving an auto-rickshaw all one needs is a valid 3-wheeler driving license. But to operate an auto-rickshaw as a transport vehicle/contract carriage, individuals are required to possess and carry on their person a number of documents at all times. These documents, based on the guidelines set in the Andhra Pradesh Motor Vehicles (APMV) rules 1989 and various transport department GOs, are issued by different state government agencies and government approved outfits. They are the primary instrument of regulating on-road-operations in the auto-rickshaw sector of the urban for-hire-vehicles market. Possessing these documents means that the driver is qualified, the vehicle he operates is up to standardized norms, and they legitimize his presence on the road as a transport service provider. Here is a list of documents required to ply an auto-rickshaw for trade along with short descriptions of the powers they hold.
1. License: To drive an auto-rickshaw as a transport vehicle, one requires a special auto-rickshaw driving license commonly known as the auto-rickshaw DL badge. In order to apply, the applicant is required to have been in possession of a Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) license for a year and a three wheeler learner’s license for a month, after which he has to give a test at the designated Regional Transport Office (RTO) to obtain the badge. To be eligible for this test, the applicant must have passed his 8th standard exams, a requirement introduced only in 2007 and one that has been opposed by unions periodically as most older drivers that have been driving for over 10 years, were suddenly at a disadvantage when it came to renewing their badges. Also, the expenses involved in navigating bureaucratic practices in regards to application deter auto drivers from applying for a badge and most start driving with their LMV licenses.
2. Permit: As per the Central Motor Vehicles Act 1988, a contract carriage permit is required to ply an auto-rickshaw commercially for trade. The purpose of the permit is to regulate the number of vehicles on the road and it is valid for 5 years after the date of issue. The different RTOs in the city are responsible for issuing contract carriage permits and also with processes related to its renewal.
3. Registration Certificate (RC): or RC booklet as it is commonly called, is obtained from the relevant RTO when the auto-rickshaw is purchased, just like when any vehicle is purchased. It records information about the build and technical specifications of the vehicle in reference to standardized norms of manufacture and is the primary document that authorizes the vehicle to be on city roads. In the case of financed vehicles, the RC is first valid for the period mentioned in the hypothecation agreement with the financing body, and only after that is it renewed again depending on the fitness period of the vehicle (as it is a transport vehicle).
4. Fitness Certificate (FC): All transport vehicles in the state are required to have a valid fitness certificate to ply on the road. They are initially issued for a period of two years by Motor Vehicle Inspectors at RTOs and have to be renewed annually after that. Its renewal is contingent upon the submission of Pollution under Control (PUC) certificate from any RTA approved mobile emission testing centre and a fare Meter Certificate (MC) from the office of the Legal Metrology Department. It is a document that qualifies the auto-rickshaw as per emission standards and its annual renewal is necessary for the RC and thereby the vehicle to continue to hold its validity. Failure to renew often results in seizure of the vehicle.
5. Meter Certificate (MC): The meter certificate is issued by the Department of Weights and Measures (Legal Metrology) and has to be renewed annually as well. For the test, the meter seal is first broken. The driver is then required to ply a little over 3 kilometers on a testing track during which the Legal Metrology officer observes the meter rate. If the meter is working as per standard regulation (Rs 20 for first 1.5 km and Rs 11 for every subsequent km traveled) then the certificate is signed and new meter seals are welded into place. The official cost is Rs 100, but charges levied by the mechanic who breaks and applies the meter seal and those of the official often take it up to Rs 600.
6. Insurance Certificate (IC): Auto drivers pay anywhere between Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 annually as vehicle insurance premium. The amount depends on the technical category and age of the vehicle and the certificate works as any other third party insurance agreement. Though made mandatory to protect the auto drivers interests in case of road accidents and damages to the vehicle, many auto drivers have discontinued paying the premium. This is because, despite paying the premium for a number of years, they are unable to even apply for compensation for damages to the vehicle as the police often refuse to register their complaints.
7. Pollution under Control (PUC): The PUC is issued by any of the 150 RTA approved mobile emission testing centres (usually omni vans parked on the side of the road). Just like for other motor vehicles the PUC has to be renewed every 6 months.
In many cases renewals of these documents are rarely undertaken, despite the threat of penalization and seizure of vehicles, given the long line outside Road Transport Offices and high processing fees of agents, often leading to the loss of the day’s income.
In cases where the auto is under finance, the original copy of documents are in the possession of financiers and only given to the driver on completion of the loan period. By holding on to the legal documentation, financier exerts a significant amount of control over the lives of auto drivers in particular and over operations in the industry in general. In many cases, where auto drivers fail to complete the hypothecation agreement and are unable to pay the loan, the vehicle is seized by the financier and sold benaami to another driver, meaning that all the documents pertaining to the auto-rickshaw continue to bear the name of the original driver rather than the new applicant.
The benaami sale of autos has been a major concern for auto drivers who despite finishing their finance period, are not legal owners as per documentation. Official procedures for transfer of ownership require all three parties – first owner, financier and current owner – to be present at the RTO with the application. In many cases the auto has switched so many hands that the original owner is untraceable or even dead. It has also been a major issue for the Traffic Police as any challans issued against registration numbers would reach the wrong address, that of the 1st buyer rather than the current driver. A later post in the series will deal with the politics around the issue of regularizing auto-rickshaw ownership documents.
 ‘The UN was collecting data on literacy rates across the world that year. Andhra Pradesh state government said it had 78 percent literacy. It actually has 37 percent. What the government did was to consider all people with a legible bank signature to be literate. Most people, no matter how illiterate learn how to sign their name. They had to put this condition of 8th class pass to show support for the higher literacy figures.’ – Interview with union leader of Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) 10th March 2015.
 The FC has often been used as a political tool to coerce auto drivers to follow newly introduced regulations, by placing new conditions as requirements for its renewal. When all auto-rickshaws were required to convert their petrol kits to LPG or CNG kits starting 2002 onward, the primary threat to auto drivers was that if they did not convert their fuel kits, they wouldn’t be issued an FC, and thereby they would have to operate with the fear of their vehicles being seized. So, auto drivers had to undertake conversions which cost them Rs 20, 000 and over, an amount many couldn’t afford and were forced to take loans for. The same happened when the government made it mandatory for all auto meters to be converted from analog/mechanical to digital in 2007. – Interview with leaders of Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and Progressive Auto and Motor Worker’s Union – 10th and 13th March
 Interview with leaders of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) – 28th May 2015
 Interview with an auto driver – 17th April 2015
 Reply by the GHMC to an RTI in 2013
 In addition to these documents the auto driver also has to wear a khaki uniform as per the APMV rules. Though this rule is followed by older drivers, the younger ones tend to flout it.
Post by Ojas Shetty with inputs from the HUL team.
The auto-rickshaw research was conducted primarily by Ojas Shetty and Harsha Devulapalli.