Delhi’s a funny city. It’s inarguably the Indian city with the worst public transport system and yet it’s planning to showcase its sophistication by replacing all its cycle rickshaws with battery-operated versions.
The ostensible reason for this switch is that cycle rickshaw-pullers are a lazy, dishonest, unaesthetic lot and showcase characteristics that 21st century India’s ashamed to show to hordes of Commonwealth Games tourists expected in October. One doesn’t quite know what to make of this Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) plan, considering most Delhiites will agree that if there’s a lot who match the negative description of cycle rickshaw-pullers, it’s the auto-rickshawallas.
Kolkata quite rightly prohibited hand-pulled rickshaws as they were genuinely inhumane. But cycle rickshaws are not at all in the same serf-like category. In fact, cities like London and New York are seeing an increasing number of ergonomic cycle rickshaws.
The argument that a transportation device powered by battery instead of by a pair of legs is more ‘respectable’ can lead to the argument that cycling itself is a humiliating way to travel. At a time when the Delhi government is rightly considering upping the road tax for cars above a certain price, cycleways, cycle rickshaw ways and, hell, footpaths should be the priority — not battery-operated devices that need even more infrastructural settings (like roadside chargers, for one) and power consumption that Delhi, a potential Potemkin Village, can do without. And if Delhi is so keen to be such a First World no-manual labour city without more cars clogging the roads, give the city cheap flaggable taxis and a hell of a lot of more public transport options like buses and metro connections.