Monday, December 11, 2006


Source: Times of India, dated:05-12-2006
The Clatter Of The Iconic Rickshaws On Kolkata Streets Was Outlawed By The Assembly


Kolkata: Bengal lawmakers on Monday voted out and bade farewell to a friend of Kolkatans’ through thick and thin — the hand-pulled rickshaw. The Calcutta Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006, to phase out handpulled rickshaws sailed through the state Assembly easily, courtesy a boycott by Trinamul MLAs.

The bill, when enacted, will undo what Chinese traders did for Kolkata’s transportation in the late 19th century by introducing this eco-friendly transport. That was years after Shimla boasted of it in 1888.

Incidentally, the first handpulled rickshaws that plied on Kolkata’s streets were freight carriers. Only later did they become the much-chastised man-carrying-man vehicles of today.

Though the government insists the bill will be signed into law immediately, it will have to seek legal advice on pending applications for licences which Calcutta High Court has ruled must be accepted. Monday’s legislative action is the culmination of over 15 months of debate set off by an unprecedented chief ministerial press conference last year to announce that hand-pulled rickshaws would be off Kolkata streets. The bill amending the Calcutta Hackney Carriage Act, 1919 was introduced in the Assembly on July 20 this year and referred to a select committee.

While piloting the bill, CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee reiterated what he had said earlier. ‘‘We must agree on one point that in the 21st century it is not right for a human being to pull another human being. Wherever I go, be it Delhi, Mumbai or abroad, people ask me how long Kolkata will have hand-pulled rickshaws? This is a shame for our city. We should have done this much earlier.’’

All that was needed to put an end to hand-pulled rickshaws, was to remove the words ‘‘and palanquins and to make certain provisions with regard to rickshaws’’ from the original act. The MLAs agreed to it.

The CM promised rehabilitation for rickshaw-pullers. ‘‘Rehabilitation will go along with removal. It isn’t that we will remove the rickshaws and give the rehabilitation package later on,’’ he said and claimed that rickshaw-pullers’ unions had accepted the alternative vocations the government had proposed.

‘‘I have talked with the Kolkata mayor about setting up cooperatives to run car parking lots. This way they will earn more than what they used to earn. The number of cars is going up and we need more parking lots. At least 2,000 people will be involved here,’’ Bhattacharjee said.

For rehabilitation, the first task is to find out the exact number of hand-pulled rickshaw wallahs. The number of licensed hand-pulled rickshaws is 5,937.

‘‘We assume there are as many rickshaw-pullers as there are licenced rickshaws. We are also talking with NGOs about helping some of them set up small trading units. Those who cannot do anything will be given financial compensation,’’ he said.

And an ode to ....

By Shankar
Kolkata’s rickshaw-pullers have given us a lot but we haven’t reciprocated. Every great city has an USP. Kolkata’s USP — whether we like it or not — is the rickshaw. No other great city can boast of it.

Banning hand-pulled rickshaws to alleviate the rickshaw-wallah’s misery is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. In a city sparsed with narrow lanes and bylanes, rickshaw-wallahs meet a very important transport need. They are Kolkatans’ friends through thick and thin.

Come floods or riots, the rickshawpuller is only a hail away. Ever heard of a rickshaw-puller betraying his passengers’ trust. Now, to Kolkata’s peril this very dependable mode of transport is sought to be abolished and their operators uprooted from a vocation handed down from generation to generation.

Crocodile tears are shed on their behalf to justify this. ‘Exploitation’, cry proponents of the law who claim they aim to end this ‘man-pulling-man’ beastliness. This argument doesn’t hold water. After all, our venerable rickshaw-wallah renders voluntary service.

The exploitation cry belies facts. Whoever said a rickshaw ride is cheap. The passenger km cost is among the highest, certainly exceeding a taxi ride. But unlike a taxi or a bus, a rickshaw can manoeuvre along Kolkata’s serpentine lanes. I can’t recall an instance when rickshaws have caused Kolkata’s notorious traffic jams. The city’s traffic managers would vouch as much. I think it might be a good idea to have a thanksgiving day for the rickshaw. To honour the rickshaw-wallah. We could at least give him tea or lunch because no one takes care of our needs better than him — be it taking our child to school, reaching the sick to hospital or helping a tourist find his destination in the city.

When I was young I read this famous novel, Rickshaw-wallah, by a Chinese author. Some years ago, I wrote a story myself — Ekjon Jatri O Rickshaw-wallah — of a man returning to Kolkata after many years and hiring a rickshaw-wallah to revisit his past. He had a luxury car at his disposal but he asked the chauffeur to return home.
(Shankar is one of Bengal’s best known contemporary writers)



Blogger Young Consumer said...

We have abundant supply of labour in this country. If some people want to earn their livelihood by pulling hand rickshaws it is because that is only about the only thing that they can do. Don't we have porters at railway stations?

Posted by Mr.Rajagopalan

10:28 PM  

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