Owners of over 300,000 three-wheelers in Sri Lanka, mostly made by India's Bajaj Auto, are in a spot since the government announced that two-stroke three wheelers would have to go off the roads by 2008.
To minimise pollution, the government wants only four-stroke vehicles to be imported from 2008, and has asked owners of two-stroke vehicles to convert them to four-stroke ones.
But conversion is costly. The new Minister for Environment, Patali Champika Ranawakka, has said that government is a considering the grant of concessionary credit for the change over.
But there will be a run on the government's credit institutions as the numbers are large. Those in the trade also say that there aren't enough mechanics in Sri Lanka to do the make over.
Mechanics who can repair a four-stroke vehicle are in short supply. And the problem is aggravated by the approaching deadline.
However, despite the government's announcement, two-stroke three wheelers are still being imported to supplement the 318,000 already in the island.
A report in the state-owned Daily News quotes the Registrar of Motor Vehicles as saying that most of the 4,000-odd three wheelers imported every month, are still two-stroke engines.
Key role in the economy
According to reports, about a million of Sri Lanka's population of 19.5 million depend for their livelihood on three wheelers, either as owners, members of the family an owner, dealers, mechanics or spare-parts traders.
The three-wheeler is considered to be one of the best investment possibilities by many Sri Lankans working in the Gulf as skilled and unskilled labour. It comes next to the purchase of a house or land.
In the lower middle strata of Sri Lankan society, it is a major income earner because it is one of the main modes of transport in the urban and the rural areas, supplementing bus transport.
A growing number of middle class urban families go in for a three-wheeler as a substitute for a small car.
David Pieris Motor Company, the franchised distributor for Bajaj three wheelers, regularly advertises the three-wheeler as a middle class family vehicle.
And there are middle class families which give their three wheelers out on hire.
Although the two-stroke three-wheeler has been branded a polluter by the government, the people do not agree.
They point out that old cars, and badly maintained buses and lorries spew venomous smoke, and not the humble three-wheeler which is generally well maintained.
That the three-wheeler is less polluting is evident from the fact that a few years ago, a British Deputy High Commissioner in Sri Lanka used a Bajaj three wheeler instead of the posh car he was entitled to.
His three wheeler with a Union Jack fluttering over it was the talk of the town. Perhaps taking the cue from him, a leading foreign correspondent switched over to a three wheeler.