Modi govt’s first faux pas: legalising e-rickshaws in Delhi

Blame it on the burden of expectations or our rockstar Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own exhortations to rise above petty politics but the decision to allow e-rickshaws in Delhi is proof enough that the NDA 2.0 rule has started on the wrong foot.

At best, it is a symbol of vote bank politics that has been the bane for all round development in India for long. At worst, it side steps major issues and allows rickshaw owners to carry on with their trade without any caveats or penalties. And endangering lives in the process.

Do not get me wrong here. I am not opposed to e-rickshaws per se. They are light and nimble, cost less than half of a motorised three wheeler and hence should offer a very affordable means of transport, provide excellent last mile connectivity and most importantly–run on batteries that do not pollute the environment with noxious fumes. My grouse is there are many vices associated that are in danger of being pushed into the carpet as an over-powered central government bull dozes opposition to further strengthen its position in view of the state elections in the city.

The first major criticism of e-rickshaws is that they are not registered and hence not insured. So if you happen to be travelling in an e-rickshaw and god forbid it topples or is hit by another vehicle, you are not entitled for any retribution. It would be worse if the e-rickshaw itself is at fault, which in many cases it is.

These rickshaws that have been plying for a few years in Delhi now have been exploiting the loopholes in our rulebooks. And doing that blatantly. Currently under the Delhi Motor Vehicle Act, vehicles that are powered by battery of less than 250W power and a top speed of less than 25kph are considered non motorised and hence do not require registration or insurance. The merit of having this category was that these vehicles are slow enough to not be seen on main roads jostling with vehicles that have more speed and technology.

Unfortunately, vendors imported parts and assembled batteries of upto 650W on the same chasis increasing the load carrying capacity of the rickshaws as well as their speed. The law failed to take note of this ‘jugaad’, and it soon became a thriving business. So much so, that it has become a vote bank expertly exploited by first the Aam Aadmi Party and now the BJP.

Another major flaw with these vehicles is overloading. Designed only for 4-5 people at the maximum, the careless owners lured by the greed of easy money overload it to the hilt. This not only severely compromises the stability and durability of the machines (they dont have much anyway) it puts many lives at risk as is evident with the increasing number of accidents where e-rickshaws are involved.

The convenience that an e-rickshaw is undisputed. And though it has happened almost by fluke, it serves a crying need in a growing metropolis like Delhi. However, a mature way of running a country is to weigh the pros and cons, look at examples from other countries and then devise a policy that is best suited to India.

A knee jerk reaction to allow 650W e-richshaws to ply on the roads without registration or insurance does as much dis-service to the cause of public transport as those who wanted a complete ban on them without providing any alternative. By giving into these demands, Mr Gadkari, your new government somehow proves it is as bad as its predecessor and those before.

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