Transport minister Nitin Gadkari’s decision to regularise the movement of battery-operated rickshaws has brought relief to around two lakh e-rickshaw drivers who currently ply on the roads of Delhi.
These environment-friendly three-wheelers started zooming around on the roads of the national Capital in 2010 and made travel affordable and convenient for many Delhiites.
“I was working at a grocery store around four years ago before I saw an advertisement of these rickshaws on the television. The government was giving attractive subsidies to people who were buying these,” said Gaurav Kumar, who makes his trips around central Delhi’s Karol Bagh.
Around a lakh rickshaw drivers like Kumar gathered at the Ramlila Maidan to save their only source of income from getting banned.
Though the Delhi Traffic police claimed that no action would be taken against these drivers till a public notice is issued on the Centre’s April 25 notification which had made the movement of these vehicles illegal, drivers complained that they were constantly harassed by the traffic police personnel.
“After the notification, traffic cops often took away our vehicle keys and asked for huge amounts as fines. They even beat us up when we enquired about our offence,” said Jakhir Khan, a rickshaw driver.
A major controversy against these vehicles was the engines they used and the permitted speed at which they were allowed to run.
Instead of a designated 250W engine and a maximum speed limit of 25km/hr, many rickshaws run on engines with the power of as much as 850W.
Drivers even admit that many rickshaws flout safety norms as they are merely assembled with parts imported from China at a much cheaper rate.
In fact only 10 Indian dealers operate in Delhi in areas like Paharganj, Karol Bagh and Tagore Garden.
“These foreign parts are available at such cheap rates that most dealers and drivers prefer to use them in their vehicles. If these parts are so easily available in the markets, we would certainly be tempted to buy them instead of the locally produced ones,” said Arun Sodi, another rickshaw driver.
“I have been paying a daily rent of `400 to run the e-rickshaw as it was difficult for me to afford one for myself. However, now I can buy my own rickshaw,” said an excited Zameer Khan, whose rickshaw plies near New Delhi railway station.
Around 30 accidents have been reported this year by e-rickshaw drivers who did not comply with traffic rules.