UP spares a thought for rickshaw pullers

Our special correspondent

Lucknow, May 4: The Akhilesh Yadav government today checked out battery-powered rickshaws ' the first step in replacing the humble cycle-drawn carrier on Uttar Pradesh's streets for the benefit of the men who pedal them.

If the plan sees the light of day, about a lakh rickshaw pullers across the state will benefit.

The idea is to give rickshaw pullers a new solar or electronic battery-powered vehicle for free. The only condition: they must not sell the rickshaws.

Lucknow has 9,000 pullers, of whom 90 per cent do not own the cycle rickshaws.

The rickshaws, as they are manufactured now, take a toll on the health of the pullers because of the old mechanical technology. A rickshaw puller struggling to pedal up an incline with two patrons in the back seat is not an uncommon sight.

The decision to phase out the old rickshaws was taken at a meeting presided over by chief minister Akhilesh yesterday. A committee headed by chief secretary Javed Usmani was set up to recommend to the government which model it should accept.

Urban development minister Mohammad Azam Khan said: "We have before us a few models of rickshaws. Our expert committee is looking into that. A decision will be taken soon. It has been decided that the present model of rickshaws will be phased out."

Akhilesh had said during his election campaign earlier this year that he would try to improve the lives of rickshaw pullers if he came to power.

Khan said the pullers would be given the new rickshaws free on condition that they would not sell them. The budgetary estimate is being worked out, the minister said. The government is also seeking an amendment to grant easy licences to migrant labourers who are rickshaw pullers.

A team of state officials today examined three models. One is an improved pedal cycle rickshaw with speed gears and better suspension. Another is a motor-assisted pedal rickshaw with electronic switches that will allow the puller to switch the motor on or off depending on his convenience, the need to negotiate an incline as well as the load. The third is an electronic rickshaw propelled by petrol or diesel.

Jagjivan Nishad, a puller in Lucknow who earns Rs 100 a day, said: "All I want is rickshaw-pulling should not lead to a high cost of maintenance. As it is we get low fares despite covering long distances."