In light of finding feasible sustainable solutions to socio-economic problems, a lot has been done to improve the condition of the pullers, yet, the way seems long. One of the issues of primary concern is to ensure safety of their rights, given that they can be easily outraged due to their relegation. The first step towards achieving this could be to ensure the proper licensing of all rickshaws. The process of issuing licenses should be fast, simple and transparent. The Government should take strict action against those who indulge in bribery.
Associations could be formed to deal with the complaints of the rickshaw pullers and to provide them with basic amenities. The Centre for Rural Development (CRD) with the technical assistance of IIT Guwahati has done a commendable job in this field by setting up a Rickshaw Bank.
As the pullers become members of the Rickshaw Bank, a rickshaw loan amounting to Rs.9000/- is sanctioned against their name with an instruction to repay the amount by paying Rs.25/- per day. A passbook is issued in their name where savings and installment recovery status are properly maintained with the help of Monitoring Information System (MIS). Rickshaw puller licenses are also provided to do away with the harassment meted out by the police and municipality.
Two sets of uniforms are provided to them to work with dignity. Insurance coverage of Rickshaws for Rs.7,000/-, for puller 50,000/- and for passenger 25,000/- is also ascertained in the project. The organization has also appointed ten garages up till now. These garages serve as daily collection centres and service stations for the rickshaws. Monthly meetings are organized in every garage to discuss the savings and installment recovery status of the Rickshaw Puller.
More associations like these should be encouraged in order to improve the standard of living of the rickshaw pullers. Also, separate stands for the rickshaws would be a much needed relief from police harassment as well as for easy access to the commuters.
Separate tracks should be created for rickshaws so that they do not have to compete for road space with fast moving traffic. If possible, only cycle rickshaws should be allowed to operate in heavily congested areas which would reduce pollution and clogging far more effectively than the present policy of banning the entry of rickshaws. Moreover, some NGOs could shoulder the responsibility of educating the rickshaw pullers of the basic traffic rules and regulations.
Thankfully, several technical solutions have also been offered to substitute the traditional model of the rickshaw which not only increases the workload of the rickshaw puller but also endangers the passengers’ safety. One of these is the Improved Pedal Cycle Rickshaw (IMPRA). This new design of rickshaw has 3-speed gears, reduced length of chain drives, back wheel shaft braking, better suspension and less aerodynamic drag than the existing ones. It is made of mild steel angles, is light in weight, sturdy, and has ample luggage and leg space. It allows the seats to be arranged in such a way that a long bed is created which allows the puller to sleep properly and without the fear of his rickshaw being stolen at night. The cost of IMPRA is estimated to be Rs.7000/- in mass production, and compares very well with the Rs.4000-6000/- which is the cost of existing rickshaws.
Another alternative is the Motor Assisted Pedal Rickshaws (MAPRA). In this system, a small motor is attached to assist pedaling whenever a great load is experienced. The extra power may also allow them to ply longer distances.
The weight of the MAPRA is about 150 kg. Test results have shown that it can easily take two passengers at 10-15km/hr to 40-45 km in continuous running and 50-60 km in stop/start mode as experienced in congested city traffic conditions. Presently the rickshaws ply to about 20-25 km per day since plying longer distances is very taxing on the rickshaw puller. Twenty MAPRAs have been fabricated at NARI and tested under varying conditions, the retail price of MAPRA has been estimated to be Rs.27000/- . It has been shown that when a rickshaw puller has no stake in MAPRA he would mostly run it on motor. However with a stake, he would normally pedal with motor assist to cover maximum kilometers before batteries get discharged.
With IMPRA costing Rs.7000/- and MAPRA with its price tag of Rs.27000/- , they are probably some of the cheapest environmentally friendly vehicles of India. Besides they also have the unique ability to provide large scale employment to the urban and rural poor.
As Manoj, a differently-abled rickshaw puller says, “Though, I’ve completed six month certificate courses in chair-making, polishing and typing, I’m continuously being turned down by employers. Maybe, it is this (his lack of nervous co-ordination) and my current profession as a rickshaw puller that doesn’t let me move ahead in life.” To save many like him from a dark desolate future and to settle the tempestuous tides in their storm-wreaked lives, it is imperative to collaborate and mass-practice such solutions and find a right combination that takes into account all situations and vicissitudes.