"Earlier, I used to be always worried about paying money to the thekedar (contractor). But now the money that I deposit in the bank every week will eventually help me own the rickshaw I ride," said Ram Siromani Nirankari, 45, one of the 100 rickshawpullers in the Delhi University area.
Nirankari's life, like others of his ilk, has transformed ever since his association with Shri Ram College of Commerce students' initiative 'Life on Wheels' started in December 2009.
The students of the college as part of the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) society, helped rickshawpullers in the university area open bank accounts and arrange for loans so that they could buy their own rickshaws.
Now, instead of paying the contractors, they pay the bank R250 per week as installment. Identity cards and uniforms were also given to them to lend them self-dignity and pride in the work they do.
A year on, the programme has spread into other areas such as health and education of these rickshawpullers and their families. On September 18, the college in association with Max India Foundation organised health check-ups for them.
An alliance with Larsen and Tubro ensured that the children of these rickshaw pullers get additional educational aids such as books, pencils and notebooks.
"A workshop and training in traffic rules in association with the route safety department of the government is also on the cards for them," said Abhay Kumar, assistant professor and faculty advisor SIFE.
The rickshawpullers have another reason to cheer. Their humble-looking rickshaws have been transformed into gorgeous pieces of art, courtesy the best designers of the country.
Around 35 designers from the Fashion Design Council of India lent their monetary and creative support to the programme by designing the rickshaws free of cost. The chief minister will formally inaugurate the designer rickshaws in early December before they start plying within the campus.
"Being an alumni of the college, it was a good way to help the students who are running such a good programme," said Sunil Sethi, president of FDCI.