Wheels of misfortune

Deccan Herald, 03 Feb 2012


Cycle rickshaws were introduced in Delhi in the 1940s when they were seen as a major technological advancement over the hand-pulled rickshaws.

One would have expected them to disappear with the fast growth of modern, motorised transport. But their number has grown phenomenally in the last couple of decades, testifying to a vibrant and increasing demand for this service.

"We have often been the victims of police's aggression. The situation needs to change with the support of general public and our committees," says Rajeshwar Jha, rickshaw puller at Geeta Colony.

Delhi has more than half a million cycle rickshaws providing an affordable and accessible transport service to many.

According to Centre for Civil Society, Municipal Corporation of Delhi, it has mandated that cycle rickshaws have to be licensed and fixed a limit of 99,000 licenses. Only 75,000 licenses have already been given out. This makes more than 80 per cent of Delhi's cycle rickshaws illegal. Raju Paswan, president, Kalyankari Cycle Rickshaw Samiti, says, "Confiscation and seizure of rickshaws by the police in collaboration with the municipal staff continues unabated. Bribes, beatings, and extortion have not stopped.Even our petition to the High Court, demanding that the new policy announced by the Prime Minister be implemented, has not made much headway. Studies suggest that on an average a bribe of Rs 200 per month is paid by each cycle rickshaw puller. That makes the total amount extorted by the municipal and police officers at Rs 80 million a month."

On an average day, they make Rs 300 to 350, out of which they pay Rs 60 to the owner, spend Rs 40 on alcohol and tobacco and Rs 50 on food and the rest is used on paying loans. Not surprisingly, none of them have bank accounts. Interestingly, in order to send money to their families, these rickshaw pullers pay interest to two parties - one to the moneylender who gives them loan and the other to the person who comes from the village to collect money from them, often acting as a messenger for most of them. They cannot open bank accounts due to the unavailability of any address proof.

But then there is a happy side too. Says Ravi, a rickshaw puller, "I have been pulling a rickshaw for more than seven years. It is a good profession as I am able to save some money and send it to my family. I recently moved my family to Delhi and have rented a small house for myself.

Read the story in Deccan Herald