Sunday, 23 August, 2009

India Cannot Remain Independent If India’s Rivers are Enslaved

By Madhu Kishwar

Citizens’ Pledge to Free Delhi’s Lifeline, River Yamuna from Pollution and Encroachments by Builder Mafias

On August 15, 2009, a wide spectrum of citizens joined together to pledge to Free Ganga Yamuna and all other rivers from pollutants and mindless encroachments on their riverbeds. The pledge was taken at Qudsia Ghat on the banks of Yamuna near Kashmiri Gate Bus Terminus. Major General Lakhinder Singh (retd), Maneka Gandhi, (Member of Parliament and Former Environt Minister), Master Baljit Singh, (leader of the villages and farmers affected by encroachments on Yamuna riverbed), and Madhu Kishwar of Manushi led the pledge taking ceremony.

Others who joined included Prabhat Singh, (Resident Editor of Dainik Bhaskar Chandigarh edition), Sunil Umarao, (Head of Department of Media Studies, Allahabad University), social activist Neelam Katara, Vijay Pratap of SADED, Ashok ji of Samadhai Mandir, IRS official, Rakesh Chitkara, Ritu Bammi of Smart Analyst, Dr. Anurag Bhagat of Parmanand Hospital, Aditya Kishwar of Reserve Bank of India and Rahul Govind from CSDS. It was encoraging to find people from diverse backgrounds-- students, film makers, academics, businessmen, bankers, street vendors, mallahs (boatmen), priests of Qudsia Ghat and most important of all villagers whose farm lands on the Yamuna riverbed are being forcibly taken away by builder mafias in collaboration with government agencies---make common cause on this issue.

In 2007 and 2008, the Yamuna Satyagraha remained focused at the site of the Commonwealth Games village. However, at the last minute it was decided to extend its reach to neighbourhoods located near the banks of Yamuna. Therefore, just four days before August 15, we selected Qudsia Ghat near Civil Lines and Kashmiri Gate area as an additional site for launching the Ganga Yamuna Satyagraha led by India's Waterman, Rajendra Singh. Manushi took the responsibility of organizing the event at the new venue to enhance the outreach of the Ganga Yamuna Satyagraha. Despite a mere two days notice, and incessant rain for most part of the day, over a 100 people turned up to take the pledge.

The approach pathway off the Ring Road was littered with garbage, potholes and slushy so that it was difficult to either walk or drive. Car wheels of several people got stuck in the slush. The stench emanating from the hideously polluted Yamuna was unbearable and gave many of us a terrible headache and nausea in the one hour we spent at the Ghat. Most shocking of all we saw people performing pujas and even bathing and cleaning in the foul sewage and industrail waste water flowing in what was once a resplendent sacred river. Pictures of Yamuna ghat attached with this mail say it all.

Each participant carried a bottle of Yamuna water in hand while taking the pledge which read as follows:
Realizing that the river Yamuna is the Life Line of Delhi,
Knowing that the river Yamuna is in a pathetic state due to the wilful neglect from the agencies of the state and apathy of citizens,
Recognizing that every citizen of Delhi is as much to blame for the sad state of the river,
Grateful that a Yamuna Satyagraha for the revival of the river Yamuna been sustained for more than two years now,
Acknowledging that I can make a difference through my active involvement for saving the river Yamuna, I pledge that:
1. I shall NOT POLLUTE the river in any manner including throwing of waste, plastic, and left over puja flowers, idols, clothes etc from religious ceremonies into the river
2. I shall RATION my personal use of daily water so that wastewater entering the river is decreased.
3. I shall SUPPORT Ganga-Yamuna Satyagraha in my personal capacity by participating in the activities of the Satyagraha.
4. I shall SPREAD awareness about and enlist support for the Ganga Yamuna Satyagraha among my friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.
5. I shall PERSUADE my neighborhood residents’ association to press upon the sewage department of the municipal corporation to stop the flow of untreated sewage into the river Yamuna,
6. I shall PRESS UPON the relevant authorities to stop converting the riverbed into a concrete jungle and instead encourage the growth of real trees and forests all along the riverbed,
7. I shall press upon our residents' association to IDENTIFY local water bodies and work together with the civic authorities to restore their health.
8. Apart from my individual contribution towards saving river Yamuna, I pledge to work towards making the 21st century an era of restoring the freedom of our rivers from all those activities that kill the river—freedom from encroachments on river beds by builder-politician mafias, freedom from industrial waste, sewage and other pollutants being poured into them, freedom for forests to grow on riverbeds and freedom to carry an ecologically necessary flow of fresh water.

The Context of the Free Ganga Yamuna Satyagraha

The independent India envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation, was one which gave its citizens “Swaraj” not just freedom from British rule. Our colonial rulers had not just enslaved India’s people but also its natural resources by assuming eminent domain over forest wealth, water bodies, rivers, and all its land including the mineral wealth that lay underneath. Gandhi envisioned a society which would provide a life of respect not only for its citizen but also look upon nature with reverence, treat the bountiful resources of nature as a gift to fulfill the legitimate needs of all human beings rather than as mere “resources” to be exploited and plundered for the greed of a few. Sad to say, in the last 62 years of independent India, this has not come to pass. Every day, new plans are being made to and enslave and destroy our rivers, forests and land. New dams, embankments, temples, hotels, malls, and residential complexes on riverine lands are nothing but enslavement of rivers under the guise of “development.” Large scale deforestation in the Himalayas, mindless construction activities on fragile mountains, melting of glaciers and global warming are all contributing to the ecological disaster story of India!

The village and urban communities that depend on these rivers for their very survival have no say in the matter. They are not even getting adequate amounts of clean drinking water, leave alone assured irrigation for their crops or other needs. The legendary prosperity of the Ganga Yamuna belt is now history. Repeated droughts followed by regular floods have impoverished this region and made agriculture and related activities economically unviable. Consequently, millions are abandoning agriculture and village based industries and flocking to urban centres as economic refugees. Our cities are ill equipped to handle such huge inflows and have become living symbols of civic chaos and squalor. This is not the Independence we deserve; this is not Independence worth celebrating.

Ganga, a river considered so sacred and pure that a mere dip in it was expected to wash away one’s impurities, is today a dead river because we are allowing it to be treated as a sewage carrier. Billions of rupees have been siphoned off in the name of cleaning Ganga but today it is twice as polluted as it was when the Ganga Action Plan was launched in mid 1980’s. Yamuna the largest tributary of Ganga and running over 1370 km from its origins till its confluence with Ganga in Prayag has some of the oldest and holiest cities lying on its banks. Delhi, Agra, Vrindavan and Mathura are cities that came into being because of this river. And yet all these cities have become the main cause of defiling and destroying the river by pouring into the river humongous amounts of sewage, industrial waste and plain garbage.

When Yamuna enters Delhi, the city government captures all its water at the Wazirabad Barrage to subject it to chemical treatment and use it for drinking water to supply to the residents of Delhi. Except during the three months of monsoon, not a single drop of river water is allowed to flow downstream for nine months in the year. Instead, Delhi pours all its sewage, industrial waste and garbage into the river so that the river is effectively dead and its water so filthy that fish and other water creatures cannot survive in it. If one stands up to one’s ankles or knees in one of the ghats of Yamuna River in Delhi, the skin breaks into a nasty rash. What Delhi sends downstream cannot be called water; it is sheer poison.

After the intervention of the Supreme Court, Yamuna Action Plan was launched in 1993 to save the river. More than $500 million have already gone down the drain under the pretence of cleaning the river by stopping the flow of untreated sewage in it. Today, the river is in a worse shape than before.

This sad state of affairs led to the launch of the Yamuna Satyagraha on August 1, 2007 in Delhi under the leadership of Waterman Rajendra Singh, with the ultimate objective of reviving the river Yamuna in its entirety and to link this struggle to the much larger struggle for saving all other rivers which are in similar if not worse plight.

The decision of the Delhi Government to construct the Commonwealth Games Village on the riverbed acted as the trigger point for the two- year old Satyagraha. Flood plains are vital for the river ecology and an integral part of the ecosystem. Delhi Government has been allowing mindless encroachments by vested interests to take over the flood plains for massive building projects. The construction of the Akshardham Temple on the riverbed paved the way for numerous such building projects.

In response to the Yamuna Satyagraha, the Lt Governor of Delhi had declared a moratorium on any new construction in the riverbed. However, on 30th July 2009 a three-member bench of the Supreme Court of India quashed the Delhi High Court order that had put various restrictions on the construction activities on Yamuna river bed citing environmental hazards. This has strengthened the hands of the builder mafia that wants to convert the entire Yamuna river bed into a massive real estate enterprise with malls, multi storey apartments, corporate offices, golf courses, cinema halls and all the rest that follows.

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak had said “Independence is our birth right.” Since rivers are our life line, the Ganga Yamuna Satyagraha extends this slogan to uphold the nature given right of all our rivers to flow freely on their course to the ocean without being converted to filthy sewers. We are launching this movement by holding the first ever Ganga Yamuna Azaadi Shibir on the shores of the Ganga in Kolkata and a Shapath Diwas (Pledge Day) on the shores of Yamuna at Qudsia Ghat in Delhi. Thereafter, we will be holding a series of Shibirs in various parts of India, to mobilize citizens to uphold the Freedom- of- Flow for Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers in order to take this movement to its desired conclusion.

[Pictures available here]

Monday, 15 June, 2009

A Woman of Rare Courage

Pratima Singh's Battle against a Rapist and Murderous Father

A Manushi Report

Pratima’s story is not an ordinary case of family abuse. It tells us a lot about the nature of the Indian state and how it has come to be dominated by criminal elements at all levels. The corrupt and the venal amongst our power wielders regularly use their leverage with the state machinery to benefit their kith and kin and crush with brute force any attempt to challenge their power. However, in Pratima’s case, her father let loose a reign of terror against her and her marital family with the active support of every possible arm of the state machinery.

In her years long battle, Pratima knocked on every possible door. Even at the risk of her life, she wrote petitions to senior-most police officers of Uttar Pradesh, to the Chief Minister as well as to the Home Secretary. She also approached the State Women’s Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Women’s Commission. Each of these institutions failed to come to her rescue. But she never gave up battling.

It was through Zee TV, whose reporter Sanjay Chandra covered her case, that she came into contact with Madhu Kishwar in September 2006. Since then Manushi has taken up her case with the UP government and also by providing her free legal aid through Manushi lawyer friends.

We find it very impressive that Pratima does not overstate or exaggerate her predicament. Even when she is close to a point of break down, she speaks in a measured way and retains her dignity. That is one reason why helping her in her fight for justice has been a very inspiring experience. Despite having gone through hell, she has not allowed her own humanity to be damaged.

We are providing our readers a detailed account of Pratima’s life so that you may join us in mobilizing support for her.

It has been a matter of great anguish for her that all these years, she is the one who was expected to hide her face from society and feel ashamed, while her father went around brazenly without any sense of shame or remorse. Even newspapers and TV channels, which covered her story, had to hide her identity by changing her name and covering her face. It is an act of great courage on her part that she has chosen to speak to Manushi in her own name and allowed us to use her unveiled pictures.

The following account is based on tape-recorded as well as several oral interviews with Pratima and several hours of conversation with her husband, along with a review of their case papers.

Twenty-five-year-old Pratima Singh is the daughter of Virendra Kumar Dohare who is currently posted as the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) in Mahoba District of Uttar Pradesh. She says, “My childhood was very different from that of ordinary children because I did not receive any parental love. My father comes from a very poor Schedule Caste (Chamar) family. He was married off while still in his teens to my mother who is from a still poorer family. Because of her poor background, illiteracy and lack of good looks, he never really accepted her. As he carried on with his studies and then got himself a government job, his disdain for my mother kept increasing. He had affairs with several women and wanted to marry someone else. Therefore, he used all kinds of tactics against my mother, including allegations of sexual infidelity, to get rid of her. For example he disowned me while I was still in my mother’s womb, alleging that this pregnancy was due to my mother’s affair with his own father.

“My paternal grandfather was a Class IV employee with the Indian Railways who did manual work on the railway line as a gangman. He was poor and had received no education at all. My father therefore had very little respect for his own father and spared no opportunity to insult and humiliate him. His allegation that his own father had fathered me was perhaps due to this contempt.

“Though I was the first daughter in three generations in my father’s family, he used my birth to abandon my mother. The main reason for my father’s aversion to having a daughter was because he thought that having a daughter would make him subordinate to whichever family she married into. He was very proud of the fact that for three generations their family has never had to bow before any other family. Consequently, she had to spend several years in her own parental home in Satahari village. My maternal grandfather was extremely poor and my mother spent those years in grinding poverty. She had only one sari, a blouse and a petticoat—not even spare garments to change into when she bathed. I grew up on dry bajra rotis.

“Even though my mother did not maltreat me, she gave far more importance to my brothers since her position was elevated in the family because of them. While my mother was living in her parental village, my grandfather, uncles, and others made several attempts to take back my elder brother because they wanted a son of the family with them. My mother firmly refused to let go of her son and insisted that either all three of us go back or none. Finally, due to the collective pressure of her community elders, including one of his uncles who later became my father-in-law, my father was persuaded to take back my mother. But he never forgave my father-in-law for having exercised his influence to make him accept his wife nor, for that matter, his own father for having taken my mother’s side.

“My father was one of five brothers and since there was a government school in the village, he managed to get an education. In 1989, he appeared for the exam for Class III officers and was selected as a Naib Tehsildar. In no time, he had developed mafia contacts and considerable political influence so that by 1993, within four years of his joining the service, he was promoted to the office of Tehsildar. By 1997, he was promoted to Class II service and became a Sub Divisional Magistrate.

“Even though he had not qualified for a Provincial Civil Service exam (PCS), he was promoted to this higher cadre due to the political influence he had garnered. Once he became a Sub Divisional Magistrate, his arrogance became even more insufferable and his criminal tendencies manifested themselves in more and more gross forms.

Even at that age, I could see that due to his corrupt ways, he was beginning to make a lot of extra income and buy big chunks of property around our own village and in Lucknow and Kanpur. He also paid for the upkeep of my mother’s brother’s family and bought a lot of prime agricultural land in the names of members of my mother’s family. I could also see that he used his power to corner women and have extramarital relationships. He would even bring prostitutes home and I would see them sleeping in my mother’s bed. My mother didn’t dare protest openly against his debaucheries because she was afraid of being thrown out of the house again.”

Growing up with such a father, it is not surprising that there was no normal father-daughter affection between Pratima and Dohare. From an early age, Pratima resented her father’s debauched ways but what humiliated her more was her father’s lecherous behaviour towards her female friends. Whenever any of her school or college-going friends came to the house, he would make obscene passes at them.

It was one such incident on October 19, 2001 that led to a major explosion in her life and set her on a dangerous, confrontational path with her father. At the time, Pratima was studying in BSc 1st Year in Kanpur. One of her college friends had come to visit her. They were both discussing some classroom related problems when her father walked in and, as was his habit, passed some lewd comments at Pratima’s friend. He was at that time heavily drunk and a bit agitated.

Pratima protested against her father’s behaviour saying, “Don’t you feel ashamed misbehaving with your own daughter’s friend who you ought to treat like a daughter? If you can do this to her, I feel you can misbehave like this with anyone, including your own daughter.”

Seeing this father-daughter confrontation on account of her, Pratima’s friend left the house in tears. But her father got into such a deadly rage that it seemed blood was pouring from his eyes. He hit her repeatedly, dragged her by her hair, and threw her on his bed. When she tried to resist and get up from the bed, he swooped down on her, untied her salwar, paralysing her with brute force, and raped her violently. Her mother was a witness to this scene.

Pratima was so devastated by this experience that for nearly 10 days she did not even come out of her room. During this period, instead of protecting her, all her mother did was to come into her room and advise her, “Please ensure that you take care of the family’s honour and protect the interests of your brothers.”

Soon after this incident, Dohare was posted at the district headquarters while his family continued to stay in Kanpur. However, he would still come home at frequent intervals. On these visits, Dohare raped Pratima repeatedly especially since he could that see she remained defiant, unlike her mother.

Living under such terror, Pratima found it hard to continue with her education and would miss college for several days. One day her friend came over to meet her and asked:, “Why aren’t you attending classes?” She had sensed that Pratima was in trouble. Although Pratima didn’t have the courage to explain her predicament, her friend inferred what had happened from the injuries on her face and body. Pratima also confided in her friend’s mother who first advised her to leave home and seek refuge in some ashram (shelter home). But after making the suggestion, her friend’s mother herself told her that such tales of exploitation are commonplace in women’s ashrams as well. While presently, Pratima had only one man exploiting her; in an ashram there might be many others.

Pratima didn’t know where else to go since she was very young and lacked the education to get a job. She says that although she did consider suicide, she decided against it because she thought people would consider her “characterless”. Instead, she found another way to handle her predicament. She started making a note of all that she was being subjected to in her diary. She also wrote letters to several of her more influential relatives along with pages from her dairy, telling them about her plight. The relatives were well aware of Dohare’s corruption and that he commanded immense muscle power, and so Pratima got no real help from them.

A friend advised her to send a letter of complaint to some senior officers in the Uttar Pradesh government. Pratima wrote a petition to the Director General of Police (DGP) and to the Home Secretary in Lucknow and sent her friend to post it for her. This was a very bold and daring step for a woman who was still living under her father’s roof and had no alternative means of support. She says that until then she had a lot of faith in the law. But what followed left her totally shattered.

The DGP apparently assigned the job of investigating her complaint to a local junior officer who then handed the case to her own father to write-up the report. On 29 January 2002, Dohare came to his Kanpur house with Pratima’s complaint against himself. He thrashed her with a steel rod, put a gun to her chest and told her, “You think a DGP can protect you against me? I hold many DGPs in my fist and can make them do my bidding. You may try to take recourse to kanoon (laws) but kanoona (brute force and extra-legal methods) are all on my side.” He then forced her to write a statement in a slightly changed handwriting saying that he had never maltreated her and that the complaint was a ploy on the part of some enemies of the family. Thus she was forced to exonerate her own father at the point of a gun.

But merely getting his daughter to retract her statement did not satisfy Dohare. She had to be crushed for this act of defiance. Pratima says, the very next week, around 4 February 2002, Dohare got his servant and his brother-in-law, Dinesh, who depended on Dohare’s financial help, to mix poison in her food. That day, Pratima was alone in the house preparing for her exam. She had been forbidden to leave the house unless she was escorted by the household servant and her father’s driver. She consumed the poisoned food just before going to bed. In a few hours, she began to vomit and was severely sick. The servant just picked her up and took her to an inner room so that neighbours and casual visitors will not notice that there was something wrong going on in the house. Pratima’s uncle then stood guard to make sure she could not call a doctor. Miraculously, Pratima managed to expel enough poison through her vomiting so that she survived without medical attention.

We asked her why, like her mother, she did not quietly accept her father’s ways in exchange for a life of comfort and luxury. She says, “Like most other people, I too like to live comfortably, but I have an inner rage and a sense of revulsion against him because I know he’s an evil man. I find it humiliating to enjoy the facilities and comforts he has to offer because he has secured this lifestyle through very corrupt and evil means, and in the process, he has altogether lost his own humanity.”

What about Pratima’s brothers, did they know what was happening to her? Since her elder brother was studying away from home in a hostel, she got the opportunity to share her predicament with him only a month after the first rape. His first response was one of total disbelief. Pratima says that even when her mother would complain to her son about her husband’s womanizing and debauched ways, her brother would respond by saying, “All this is normal when a man reaches a certain status. If we make too much fuss about it, it will ruin our family’s reputation.” When he got to know about Pratima’s complaint to the DGP, which led to an investigation, his reaction was, “How dare she rebel like this and write letters against her own father to outsiders. What does she think of herself? She should be killed.” So she got neither sympathy nor support from her elder brother, while the younger one was too small at that time to be of much help.

Since Dohare was easily able to deflect Pratima’s official complaint, he became further emboldened in assaulting her. So, on 13 February 2002, he unexpectedly came home midweek on the pretext of picking up voting machines for his constituency. As soon as Pratima saw him, she walked out of her room to the verandah, fearing yet another assault. Her calculation was that if she stayed out in full public view, she might be able to protect herself. But Dohare forced Pratima’s mother to fetch her in. And once again, she was raped while her mother was in the house.

Despite increasing violence and threats, Pratima could not be subdued. She wrote many more letters to various high officials, including the Home Secretary and the Chief Minister of the State describing her predicament but to no avail.

She took a couple of her friends into confidence who supported her decision to leave the house. Since she had no where to go and no money to organize a safe shelter for herself, she went to Varanasi, and sought refuge with a young relative named Satya Prakash who was at that time studying for a medical (BMS) degree while staying in a hostel. She chose him for seeking help because he was educated and of good repute. Morever, his father had helped her mother get back into her matrimonial home and also expressed a measure of disapproval of Dohare’s acts against Pratima.

Satya Prakash says he was himself unwilling to get involved in this matter because he knew that Pratima’s father would turn vindictive. However, when Satya Prakash’s close circle of friends heard Pratima’s story, they were very moved and pleaded with Satya Prakash to come to her rescue. After hours and hours of his friends pleading and arguing on Pratima’s behalf, Satya Prakash consented to marry her because that alone gave him the right to offer her shelter without falling foul of the law. Had he given her shelter without marriage, Dohare could have implicated him in charges of abduction and rape of his daughter.

Satya Prakash did not even get the opportunity to consult with his father or elder brother before the marriage. In any case, he knew they would never support his decision. On 21 February 2002, they registered their marriage in Uttar Kashi. They dared not get married in UP, their home state, because they feared Pratima’s father would try to stop it. Soon after the marriage ceremony, Pratima made the mistake of telephoning her father to inform him of her marriage to Satya Prakash and told him that she wanted to break all ties with him. After that, Pratima and Satya Prakash went into hiding at the house of one of Satya Prakash’s friends in Uttar Kashi. Dohare was so outraged at the news that he lost no time in retaliating.

On 23 or 24 February 2002, Dohare went with some local goons in his official car to Satya Prakash’s village and forcibly abducted Satya Prakash’s father Sita Ram, and brought him to his official residence in Kanpur. At gunpoint, Dohare demanded the expeditious return of his daughter. Dohare was convinced that Sita Ram had instigated Satya Prakash to “elope” with his daughter. Dohare also phoned Satya Prakash’s elder brother, Babu Ram Pratap, who was an advocate practicing in the Allahabad High Court, and demanded that he immediately come to his house in Kanpur, or else he would shoot Satya Prakash. As soon as Babu Ram reached Kanpur, Dohare forced him and his father into a vehicle and carried them to Satya Prakash’s hostel in the medical college in Varanasi. Dohare was accompanied by two carloads of goons. There, Dohare and his goons ransacked Satya Prakash’s room and tried to burn all his books and papers. Luckily, his roommate ran and called the hostel warden who stood up to Dohare and ordered him and his goons to leave the hostel premises at once. Satya Prakash’s friends somehow managed to rescue Babu Ram and his father by smuggling them out of the hostel through the back gate.

After this incident, Babu Ram and his father Sita Ram were too terrified to stay in their village home. Therefore, Babu Ram took shelter in his wife’s parental home. Sita Ram and his younger son Ramasre also went into hiding and moved from one relative’s house to another. The only person left in their village home was Pratima’s old mother-in-law who had to face Dohare’s goons all alone on several occasions. They would come looking for the male members of the family, break things, vandalise the whole house and shower threats and abuses on the old woman.

Following the February 2002 kidnapping and Dohare’s subsequent terrorising acts against Satya Prakash’s family, Babu Ram Pratap endeavored to file complaints against Dohare. Even though Babu Ram was a High Court advocate, he was unable to get even an FIR registered against Dohare and his goons. Satya Prakash says, “The Circle Officer of the police station of the area, Rajesh Kumar, happened to be a buddy from Dohare’s college days and belonged to the same SC community. He made no secret of the fact that he was acting at Dohare’s behest. When Satya Prakash’s family tried to register complaints and seek protection for themselves, policemen would tell them, ‘He’s only threatening you, he hasn’t yet killed you, so what are you making this big fuss about? After all, your brother has run away with his daughter. Do you expect him to take this humiliation lying down?” Satya Prakash adds, “On March 25, 2002, Dohare fired a shot at my brother, saying, ‘you know where the girl is but you are hiding it from us. If you don’t help me reach her soon, I’ll kill you all.’

In desperation, Babu Ram sent registered letter to the Home Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, the Chairman Bar Council of Allahabad High Court, and several other high officials complaining that his life was in danger. But no one took any note.”

Pratima says, “My father remained convinced that Babu Ram Pratap was giving me strength to revolt no matter how much I tried to explain to him that Babu Ram did not approve of Satya Prakash’s marriage with me. Therefore, my father was determined to knock Babu Ram out from our lives.”

At this point, in desperation, Pratima sought the help of another supposedly influential relative who lives in Jaipur, to prevail upon her father to leave her alone. She told him that she was willing to come and face her father provided he stopped hounding her husband and in-laws. This relative assured her that he would help her arrive at a compromise and asked her to come to Jaipur for the purpose.

On 27 April 2002, Pratima, her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law arrived at the house of Dohare’s cousin in Jaipur. However, contrary to the assurances made to Pratima, this man had entered into a different kind of pact with Dohare. Pratima’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law were taken and locked up in a separate room. Dohare came in his official vehicle with his brother and sevral armed men and abducted Pratima, dragging her by force and dumping her into the car. As soon as Dohare left with Pratima on 28 April 2002, the Jaipur relative released Satya Prakash, Sita Ram, and Babu Ram. As he threw them out of the house, he told them, “If you dare come anywhere near that girl again, we will dynamite your house so that as high as it stands today, there will be as deep a crater in its place.”

After Pratima was kidnapped by her father at gun point on 28 April 2002, her father-in-law called the local police to register a complaint because he was afraid that her father might get her killed on the way. But the Jaipur police refused to register a case on the specious plea that the case was under UP jurisdiction because the SDM was from UP.

After returning to UP, her husband tried to file an FIR in Kanpur but no one would accept his complaint thanks to Dohare’s influence. Satya Prakash says Dohare called his father the next day and told him: “Now that I have taken the girl back, I will teach your whole family a lesson you will never forget.”

Her father apprently brought her to Kanpur because by then her letters of complaints to various high fficials of UP had resulted in enquiries against him, and he needed her to get his name cleared in those enquiries. She says, “At this point, I was pregnant with my father’s child and my mother got to know about it. Out of sheer anger and revulsion, I told my father, ‘You have been trying to prove me a liar for pointing a finger at you. People in the outside world also doubt my word because they want proof. Finally, I will have an incontrovertible proof to show to the world in the form of this child.’ Within no time, my parents forced an abortion on me on 21 May 2002. They took me to Sumita Nigam who runs a clinic in Shishamau market in Kanpur. I cried and told her I did not want an abortion but the doctor said, ‘you have no choice. You better go through it.’”

We asked her how she was so sure that it’s her father’s child and not her husband’s since she had been married in the meantime. Pratima says, she knew it for sure for the following reasons: “First, I had already missed my period before I got married. Secondly, after my marriage, my husband and I were living under so much stress and terror that neither of us were in a psychological frame of mind to establish conjugal relations. Moreover, we were living in other people’s homes where we had no private space. We couldn’t live like husband and wife. That’s why my parents were dead-set on getting me aborted after I had let it be known that I wanted the child as an act of defiance.”

Where did she get so much courage and spirit of defiance? She says, “Today, I have to go on fighting because the lives of so many members of my husband’s family have been endangered because of me. But at that time, when I was barely nineteen, like many young people I had the spirit and desire to stand up for my rights. I had no direct experience of such battles, I had only read about them in books and seen them in films and TV serials, so I expected the legal machinery to come to my aid”.

Pratima’s father did not hide the fact that after he was cleared in the enquiries, he wanted to eliminate her. She says: “He let it be known that he would get me murdered and implicate my in-laws, alleging that they had killed me for dowry. Therefore, I was really afraid for Satya Prakash and his family but I had no way of contacting him because I was held captive in my own house and was not even allowed to use the family phone. Finally, in desperation, I begged our domestic servant to help me reach my husband by phone. I told Satya Prakash that my father had declared it openly that after murdering me he was going to implicate them all. Therefore, it was important that he approach the court to get me released from my father’s custody.

“My brother-in-law was at that time so disgusted with the whole affair that he wanted nothing to do with us. Therefore, he refused to help. So my husband went through some friends and colleagues of his brother who helped him file a habeas corpus petition on 26 May 2002 in the Allahabad High Court to seek my release from my father’s illegal captivity. This was listed for hearing on 5 August 2002.

“This further outraged my father. He had not expected the matter to reach the High Court. He tried to pressure me to give a statement in his favour in the Court, once again repeating his favorite threat, ‘Even if you manage to get a verdict in your favour with the help of kanoon, remember kanoona is in my hands.’ I was really in a terrible state. If I gave a statement in my father’s favour, life for me would be worse than hell or death in his house. On the other hand, if I went against him, I knew he was capable of destroying my life and that of anyone else connected with me.”

As a result of Satya Prakash’s petition, the High Court issued a subpoena to Virendra Kumar Dohare. He had failed to appear in Court on two earlier occasions. Therefore, he was held guilty of ‘contempt of court.’ On 5 August 2002, the case was postponed to 7 August 2002 for a hearing.

Pratima says, “Since my father knew that I was likely to testify against him, he was determined to prevent me from reaching the Court on August 7. So he arranged for yet another kidnapping. At the time I was made to stay in some relative’s house in Allahabad. Early on the morning of 7 August 2002, there was a knock on my door and my elder brother Anil asked me to open the door. As soon as I did so, three armed men dragged me by the hair, threw me into a car, tied my hands and feet, blindfolded me, and drove away. I think they had chloroformed me because as soon as they threw me in the car I passed out.

“They seized me so abruptly that I didn’t even have slippers on my feet. When I regained consciousness, we were somewhere on the highway. I was disoriented and had no idea where we were going. The three men were armed and had apparently been instructed to eliminate me. This was later confirmed when I discovered that on the very day I was abducted by my father’s goons, he had registered an FIR with the Dhumanganj police station in Allahabad alleging I had been kidnapped by someone else. He was trying to stage my abduction as if he had no involvement.

“Some hours after being driven blindfolded, I regained consciousness and requested water from my abductors. They agreed to this request.” When they gave her water, they agreed to remove the blindfold for a while though her hands were still tied behind her.

As luck would have it, precisely then Pratima’s abductors discovered that they had a flat tyre. So two of them got down to change the tyre while the third left the vehicle to urinate. Per chance all three abductors left their guns in the car. Pratima used this opportunity to seek help.

Pratima describes, “At that moment, I saw a state transport bus coming in our direction. I somehow managed to get out of the car and run into the middle of the road. I motioned at the bus to stop and gesticulated to show the bus driver that my hands were tied behind my back. Luckily for me, the driver came to my rescue. The other passengers noticed the guns in the car and decided not to confront my abductors. The passengers quickly pulled me inside and the bus driver sped away. Since the bus had a full load of passengers, my abductors did not continue to pursue me.

“At this point we were somewhere between Kannauj and Unnao. I was hungry and penniless. When the bus reached Unnao, some fellow passengers helped me to make a phone call to my mother’s uncle in Lucknow. I told him of my plight. He already knew about my father’s violence and feared him terribly. He told me I would endanger him by coming to his house or any other relative’s for that matter. His advice was that I should go back to my husband and no one else. But he offered to meet me at Lucknow bus stop and help me locate my husband. Finding Satya Prakash was difficult for him because my husband was in hiding. ”

When Pratima reached Lucknow, her relative gave her some money and the contact address of her husband. He also helped her contact a member of the State Women’s Commission named Anita who is the wife of a BSP worker and was known to Pratima’s brother-in-law. Anita helped Pratima get a lawyer, Rajeev Upadhyaya, who agreed to take up Pratima’s case at the High Court in Allahabad.

Pratima appeared in High Court on 19 August 2002. She says, “My husband had no idea how I would testify because we had lost contact for a while. He feared my father might have coerced me to come to his defense. The High Court judge, Justice R.C. Deepak, who was hearing the habeas corpus petition filed by my husband, called me for my testimony in his private chamber rather than hearing the case in open court. My husband was not allowed to come in. This judge also happened to be from the SC community. Apart from seeking release from my father’s illegal custody, I was determined to put all of the facts of the case against my father, including charges of rape, violence, abduction, attempt to murder and forced abortion before the judge. But he refused to take note of those facts. He told me point blank, ‘Ek to us bechare ki ladki ja rahi hai doosra tum uski rozi roti bhi chhinana chahati ho! (On the one hand he has lost his daughter, on top of it, you’re trying to snatch away his livelihood from him!) It should suffice for you that I’m letting you go with your husband. I promise you your father will not bother you anymore. As for the rest of the charges, it is best that you forget about them.’ Thus, despite my best efforts, I could not get a case registered against my father even though I had risked my life to do so. I wanted to put the past behind me and start a new life, but I knew that my father would not leave us in peace.”

Apart from repeated attacks on Sita Ram’s house, Dohare got his cousin, Mahender Kumar to institute a fraudulent case of criminal trespass and takeover of property against Sita Ram. This was preposterous since Sita Ram and his family had been living in their home for years. Dohare was simply trying to encumber Sita Ram with legal entanglements. However, with great effort Babu Ram successfully proved in Court that this was a bogus case meant as an act of vindictiveness against their family.

Babu Ram was aware that he was being followed by criminals and that his life was in danger. Therefore, he became very careful about his movements. However, on 23 February 2003, Pratima’s father finally succeeded in silencing Babu Ram Pratap forever.

Satya Prakash describes the events of that day: “He laid an elaborate trap by sending a man called Udayvir Singh who knocked at my brother’s door at about 11 a.m. and begged him to accompany him to Bidhuna by claiming that there was an emergency since someone close to him needed urgent legal help with bail. My brother resisted since it was a Sunday but the man fell at his feet and pleaded with him till Babu Ram relented.

“In Bidhuna, Udayvir Singh took Babu Ram to meet one Kamlesh Kumar Yadav who asked Babu Ram to help him secure bail. Babu Ram became nervous when he saw Kumar’s long criminal history, but the two men kept him engaged for hours. In the meantime, Babu Ram’s wife got very anxious because he had not reached his sister’s house in Bidhuna as he was supposed to. So she sent his younger brother, Ramasre, to locate him. Upon reaching Bidhuna, Ramasre stopped at a petrol pump to refuel his tank. At that moment, he saw Udayvir Singh. Ramasre asked about Babu Ram, but Udayvir Singh was evasive. Ramasre was suspicious of Singh but didn’t let on. He secretly started following Singh until he reached where his brother was.

“Ramasre insisted that Babu Ram return home at once. Udayvir Singh and Kamlesh Kumar allowed the two brothers to go but apparently continued to follow them. After a brief stopover at their sister’s house, Babu Ram and Ramasre got on the scooter and left for their village. This was around 4 p.m. They had barely gone a kilometer or two when their scooter broke down. So they had to stop and get it repaired. Shortly thereafter, Udayvir Singh, Kamlesh Kumar and Brij Bihari reached the scene on a motorcycle. The three men pretended as if they wanted to know why Babu Ram was stuck on the road. Kamlesh Kumar then accosted Babu Ram, saying, ‘The SDM has given me 50,000 rupees to murder you. How much are you willing to give me to murder him?’ Babu Ram replied, ‘He may be involved in such acts. I am not the kind who hires assassins.’ Kamlesh Kumar then shot and killed Babu Ram. Ramasre was forced to witness the murder of our elder brother but somehow managed to save his own life by running into a nearby field. With great difficulty he managed to reach home to bring the tragic news.”

Pratima says, “Babu Ram’s murder devastated the entire family because, as the eldest and best-educated son of the family, Babu Ram was the pride of our family. He was in his early thirties and left behind a 26-year-old widow, a 7-year-old son, and an infant daughter. My father’s personal car, URG 123, was seen that day near the spot of the murder. Dohare’s brothers, Ravinder and Arvinder Kumar, were reportedly inside the vehicle.”

Dohare was implicated in the murder under section 120B of the IPC and as a result, he was suspended from his job on 10 April 2003. This case is being tried in the District Court at Auraiya. Among the witnesses listed in this case are Pratima, Satya Prakash, Ramasre, and Nilesh who is Babu Ram’s brother-in-law.

Once again, Satya Prakash and his family found it difficult to get even an FIR registered, let alone a proper investigation into the murder. This, despite the fact that Ramasre was witness to Babu Ram’s murder and could recognize and identify the three men involved — Kamlesh Kumar, Brij Bihari, and Udayvir Singh. Satya Prakash says, “We had to move heaven and earth to get a murder case registered because the Circle Officer of the area, Rajesh Kumar, was not just a close friend of Dohare, but he was also particularly close with Kamlesh Kumar, the man who had actually fired the shots that killed Babu Ram. The courts had issued an externment order against Kamlesh Kumar from Auraiya district on account of his criminal record that included nearly 50 cases against him”.

Of her father’s hand in the murder Pratima says, “My father thinks there is no one more powerful than him in the world. He has police support, he manages to get political patronage of whichever party comes in power, and he can manipulate anyone from the bureaucracy to mafia gangs.

He can find a way to defy any law. In fact, he tries to get people’s sympathy and turn them against me by saying that I am making false allegations of rape against him at the behest of Sita Ram and Babu Ram. He claims that Satya Prakash and I were having a romance before our marriage, which he objected to since Satya Prakash is supposed to be my cousin chacha. This is patently false because there was no such relationship between us. He is my cousin chacha and not my fathers brother. I only went to him out of sheer desperation. I could not have gone to total strangers and the police and government officials had failed to offer me protection. I chose someone I had some claim, on account of being related. But he has spread the rumour that I and my in laws are being vindictive towards him because he objected to my marrying Satya Prakash who has seduced me out of greed because he wants to marry a rich man’s daughter and get a fat dowry. In fact, Satya Prakash married me reluctantly.” This false charge of romance has so angered them both that Satya Prakash says he has come to hate the word “love affair” since it has come to be used as a weapon against him.

In fact Dohare’s younger brother has actually married his real neice, after breaking her first marraige! Dohare finds that perfectly acceptable yet he went on a murderous spree when his daughter married a cousin uncle.

Satya Prakash adds: “Even though there was clear-cut evidence of Dohare’s involvement in this murder, and even his car was seen at the murder site, no action was taken by the state government against Dohare. Through some senior colleagues of my dead brother, we approached one of the members of the State Women’s Commission. She was moved by Pratima’s plight and introduced her to another influential member of the Commission, Indira Punia, the wife of the former Chief Secretary of UP, Mr. P.L. Punia. Without these contacts, we would never have gained access to members of the State Women’s Commission. They hardly ever consent to meet ordinary citizens. Indira Punia was able to get her husband to suspend SDM Dohare and also help us get police protection for a while.

“After this initial help, however, Mr. Punia, who was also a Scheduled Caste IAS officer, refused to extend further help. Dohare managed to get the then Transport Minister in Mayawati’s government to persuade Punia that as SCs they should protect each other rather than go against an officer of their own community.”

Both Pratima and Satya Prakash say that through these years they got much better response from non-SC officials than from people of their community. Therefore, both of them are very bitter against their own community. The one officer who was especially helpful and sympathetic to Pratima’s plight was Daljit Singh Chaudhry who was then the Senior Suprintendent of Police of that district. He provided them police protection for as long as he was posted in the area. But after he was

Dohare’s vengeance kept augmenting as he found her fighting back. Pratima says, “Soon after my brother-in-law’s murder, Dohare instituted yet another fabricated criminal case against my old father-in-law, my husband, and my younger brother-in-law. He staged the drama of getting his cousin Pradeep Kumar’s 8-year-old daughter ‘abducted’ and named my very ill, bed-ridden father-in-law, my husband, and my younger brother-in-law, Ramasre as the abductors under Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code.

“We got to know that this girl was actually sent to her uncle’s house in Jaipur, but the staged drama was meant to implicate my family in yet another criminal case. This was at a time when my father-in-law, already traumatised by his eldest son’s death, was in a very poor state of health. In that condition he had damaged his femur and had to undergo a bone transplant at the Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi. After that, he was confined to his bed and could not even walk to the toilet. And yet he was implicated in the abduction case.

“It’s very easy for my father to prop up false witnesses because of his official influence. At the same time he was also able to get reinstated in his job by paying off senior officers. He apparently spent 5 lakh rupees getting reinstated even though the case is still going on in the court.

“My father-in-law was so devastated by being implicated in the abduction case, especially after the murder of Babu Ram, that he never recovered and passed away on 19 October 2005.”

Due to a lack of police security, Pratima and her in-laws found it difficult to attend court hearings. Pratima, Satya Prakash, and Ramasre left the state altogether and looked for a job outside Uttar Pradesh. They felt they could not reside safely in any part of the state as Dohare’s corrupt influence had infiltrated seemingly every level of the administration. Since the family had lost their main bread-earner, Satya Prakash had to look for a job to support Pratima and Babu Ram’s wife and children. He had cleared his B.M.S. exam in 2005 and was therefore qualified for a medical job. Securing employment was difficult since they had to stay in hiding. It is noteworthy that Pratima defied her traumatic circumstances and completed her B.Sc degree with the support of Satya Prakash.

It speaks volumes about the functioning of the highest institutions in India that Pratima got no help whatsoever when she approached various institutions of the state. She wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as early as April 2002. At first they did not even respond to her complaint. She sent them several reminders, with no effect. She and her husband made yet another petition to the Human Rights Commission after the murder of Babu Ram Pratap on June 8, 2002.

This particular complaint was taken note of. But what happened made a mockery of the whole exercise. The NHRC wrote to the State Human Rights Commission, which assigned the job of investigating the complaint to the Circle Officer of Auraiya District, Rajesh Khanna. Pratima says, “This man neither took my testimony nor that of my husband’s and in-laws’. And yet he sent a report to the NHRC stating that I have been instigated by my husband and in-laws to lodge false cases against my father because of past enmity.”

Likewise the UP State Women’s Commission closed the case in 2003 on the ground of “insufficient evidence” against her father — all because when the State Women’s Commission summoned him for his testimony, he refused to show up. That should have been ground for taking more determined action against him rather than closing the case.

Her application to the National Commission for Women (NCW) in 2004 also received no response. However, when Madhu Kishwar personally took her to the NCW in September 2006, they took note of the case though their intervention did not produce any results.

Madhu Kishwar met Pratima and Satya Prakash on September 9, 2006 in the ZeeTV studio, where she had been invited to comment on their story which had been put together by reporter Sanjay Chandra. They both looked like hounded animals so Madhu gave them her phone number, assuring them on Manushi’s behalf of extending all possible help to them.

Pratima, Satya Prakash, and Ramasre had to appear in the Auraiya District Court on 19 September 2006 as witnesses in Babu Ram’s murder case. They were terrified of returning to Dohare’s territory in UP. We were under the impression that her father would be subdued by Zee TV’s public she, but she had not counted on his genius for finding more and more devilish ways for giving vent to his vindictiveness.

On September 19 Pratima, Satya Prakash, and Ramasre appeared in court along with constable Suryapal Singh and constable Suraj Singh, their assigned security guards. (The three had been granted round the clock police protection between the dates of 10 September and 25 September 2006 in order for them to appear in court.) The two constables were staying at their house. As per Pratima’s account, on the very day of the hearing, Dohare organized the murder of the sister-in-law (bhabhi) of Brij Bihari and implicated Satya Prakash, Ramasre, and their brother-in-law, Nilesh Kumar, in the murder. Brij Bihari is one of Dohare’s mafia gangsters, who was involved in the murder of Babu Ram. It is quite likely that Brij Bihari’s sister-in-law had become an inconvenience and they decided to kill two birds with one stone—get rid of her and destroy all of the men in Pratima’s marital family.

In order to evade arrest, Satya Prakash and Ramasre had to go into hiding while Pratima began phoning Manushi from Auraiya in total panic. If Satya Prakash and Ramasre were arrested she would not even have the money to hire a lawyer to secure their bail.

Manushi could do very little to help her in Auraiya. Therefore, we advised her to rush back to Delhi at the earliest while we fixed an appointment for her with the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women. On September 22, 2006, Pratima reached Delhi and Madhu accompanied her to meet Girija Vyas who at once called a press conference and announced that the NCW would take up this case .

On September 25, 2006, the Deputy Secretary of NCW wrote to the Director General of Police and the Chief Secretary of UP requesting that the NCW be provided with a detailed report about the inaction on cases lodged against Virendra Kumar Dohare.

Neither the Chief Secretary nor the DGP bothered to respond to the NCW letter. Another reminder was sent on October 5, 2006. This too met with the same fate. In the mean time, Pratima became even more desperate because her father’s goons had once again descended on the village home where her mother-in-law and widowed sister-in-law were living with the two children. Pratima believes they had come with the intention of killing or abducting the children, but since her sister-in-law screamed for help and several villagers rushed to her aid, the gangsters fled the scene. Because of the way Dohare had managed to entangle Pratima’s husband and her younger brother-in-law in a false case of murder, she was afraid they would be arrested and she would be left without any support to fight her father.

Finally Some Relief

Therefore we approached Maneka Gandhi, who represents the Pilibhit constituency of Uttar Pradesh in the Parliament. She phoned the Principal Home Secretary of the UP Government, Satish Kumar Agarwal, and told him that Manushi would be approaching him with full details of the case. Within hours of that phone call, Mr. Agarwal had assigned Mr R.K. S. Rathore, one of his best police officers, to personally get the facts of the case from Manushi.

On October 16, 2006, Mr. Rathore, Senior Suprintendent of Police along with two other officers visited the Manushi office to meet Pratima. He spent nearly four hours listening to Pratima and helping her write a detailed complaint. Within a day, the Home Secretary invited Pratima and Madhu Kishwar to come and meet him in Lucknow. They left for Lucknow on October 19, 2005, escorted by two police officers.

Because of the Home Secretrary’s personal interest in her case, the Director General of Police (DGP), Mr Bua Singh promptly ordered police protection to Pratima’s family in the village. The investigation for the murder case in which Pratima’s husband and brother-in law were falsely implicated has been handed over to DIG Daljit Singh, an officer widely respected for his integrity and efficiency. But the DGP, Bua Singh did not think it was feasible for Pratima to register rape, abduction and attempts -to- murder charges against her father since those incidents were very old. This despite the fact that Pratima had knocked on every government door and risked her very life in trying to register criminal cases against her father when those incidents actually happened. It was the fault and failure of the Government machinery that she was not heard and the cases were not registered against her father. Therefore, we argued that it was for the Government to make up for the lapse and the time lost.

Mr. Aggarwal saw merit in this and instructed that an FIR be lodged on the basis of Pratima’s complaint and assigned the job to SSP Daljit Singh. However, as expected Dohare was able to thwart an honest enquiry by the police.

She fears that no matter which party is in power, her corrupt father with active help from the Schedule Caste lobby in in government carries enough political clout to influence decisions in his favour. Now that Mayawati is in power, he feels even more emboldened.

It is noteworthy that even after the filing of an FIR, Dohare was neither arrested nor suspended from his job. Manushi lawyer Geeta Luthra argued the case in Allahabad High Court which asked for a report from the police. But the Investigating Officer closed the case without as much as talking to Pratima or taking her statement or that of her family. What is worse Dohare has managed to implicate Pratima’s husband, brother in law, mother in law and sister in law in fraudulent criminal cases. as a counter blast strategy.

Manushi is now planning to approach the Supreme Court to get the case transferred to Delhi because going for court hearings to UP--whether to attend the High Court hearings at Allahabad or to follow up the case in the lower courts at Kanpur endangers not only Pratima's life but also that of Manushi volunteers who accompany her. When Madhu Kishwar accompanied her to Kanpur and Allahabad for two different court hearings, she and Pratima were shadowed all day by Dohare's men. Dohare has brazenly declared that he will destroy any one who dares lend support to Pratima.

Tuesday, 9 June, 2009

Manushi's Endeavors to Reform the Cycle Rickshaw Policy

By Madhu Kishwar

Manushi has been engaged in the endeavor to reform the highly irrational and exploitative cycle rickshaw policy and laws governing the cycle rickshaw sector in India since 1997. The Cycle Rickshaw Bye Laws of 1960 adopted by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and subsequent amendments made to it in the last few years depict a Kafkaesque reality whereby under the guise of protecting the poor rickshaw pullers from the supposed exploitation of rickshaw owners who hire out their vehicles to pullers, the MCD had institutionalized a corruption friendly License-Quota-Raid Regime which allowed huge extortion rackets to flourish. They make a total mockery of some of the most sacred Fundamental Rights promised in the Indian Constitution to every citizen of India--including the Right to Earn a Livelihood and the Right to Equality before law.

(Click on the arrow to see this video)

(Click on the arrow to see this video)

The hostile laws against the cycle rickshaw sector are not just confined to Delhi. Similar provisions prevail in most states of India where rickshaws are an important mode of public transport.

In response to Manushi’s advocacy campaign, on 23rd August 2001, the then Prime Minister had announced a reformed and poor friendly policy framework for rickshaw sector and advised the then Lt Governor of Delhi to implement it with urgency. However, instead of implementation, we witnessed brazen sabotage of the PM’s new policy by the MCD as well as the Delhi Police – both of who added many more repressive regulations to the existing regime of fleecing rickshaw owners and pullers.

In the intervening years, even the High Court of Delhi as well as the Supreme Court was manipulated into endorsing the unconstitutional regulations by misleading representations made before the courts government agencies. Manushi’s petition challenging the rickshaw policy filed before the Delhi High Court in 2002 languished for years. In 2007, Manushi filed a fresh petition which began to be taken seriously when a bench headed by the Chief Justice of Delhi Court, Justice Shah began hearing our petition. Justice Shah was so horrified at the patently unconstitutional regulations governing the rickshaw sector that, he ordered that a full bench of the High court would hear our petition. This enthused the Cycle Rickshaw Operators Union to also file an intervention petition.

After four long hearings, on 8th May 2009, the High Court issued instructions to the MCD to come up with a more rational policy framework and plan of action to bring about the much needed reforms in the cycle rickshaw policy involving “its impact in the public domain viz-a-viz the welfare of the rickshaw pullers / rickshaw owners and make appropriate recommendations with regard to the number of cycle rickshaws required in the city area-wise; simplification of the rickshaw licensing procedure, impact of the demand based issue of rickshaw licenses on the traffic in the city; citizens’ convenience and urgent need to reduce air and noise pollution in the city... The report of the Committee be placed before the Court on or before 30th June, 2009.”

The High court also ordered that in the meantime “No licensed cycle rickshaw being driven by an unlicensed cycle rickshaw puller would be challaned, seized or impounded by the MCD solely on the ground of it being plied by an unlicensed puller. The unlicensed cycle rickshaw if seized/impounded would not be scrapped or dismantled by the MCD. However, the MCD would be entitled to levy a composition fee of Rs.50/- plus Rs.5/- per day per cycle rickshaw towards storage charges/departmental expenses etc.”

However, while the High Court case was being heard the present MCD Commissioner, Mr VK Mehra invited Manushi to make a presentation on the problems created for the rickshaw owners and pullers by the municipal and police regulations. At this meeting, the MCD Nodal Officer Mr Vijay Kumar Singh who has been in-charge of cycle rickshaw policy also made a presentation of his new scheme of “scientific management” for rickshaws which had already been opposed by Manushi and come under fire in the High Court. Commissioner Mehra was so moved by the issues raised by Manushi presentation that he decided to constitute a special empowered Committee to review the existing policy and propose a realistic, citizen friendly alternative. Simultaneously he personally went and talked to several pullers incognito as a private citizen to get first hand confirmation of the facts presented by Manushi.

The battle for policy reform is bound to be a long drawn one because amendment to existing laws will require a consensus among the Municipal Councilors. We are at a critical point in the movement to make cycle-rickshaws an integral part of transport system, and as a result, make Delhi one step closer to being eco-friendly, and citizen friendly city which does not believe in persecuting and driving out the poor in its quest for becoming a modern and jazzy metropolis.

We seek your help and support in carrying this battle forward.

Click here for a detailed critique of the present policy and the reforms proposed by Manushi.

Click here for more videos.

Monday, 8 June, 2009

Government's Warfare against the Eco Friendly, Citizen Friendly Cycle Rickshaws

By Madhu Kishwar

Manushi’s involvement with the problems faced by cycle rickshaw owners and puller and street vendors) began in the year 1996 purely by chance, when I chanced to make a documentary film for Doordarshan- the government owned national TV channel in India. The film depicted the routine confiscation drives of rickshaws in the City and how a perfectly legitimate occupation had been trapped in a web of illegality by irrational government policies.

My interest in the problems of cycle rickshaws grew out of sheer puzzlement and sadness at the pathetic state of this vehicle. During my childhood years, cycle rickshaws both in Delhi and other towns of North India used to be far more colourful and sturdy. Over the years, one saw them become more and more dilapidated. It bothered me a great deal, especially since it was painfully visible that pulling such a broken down vehicle involved a great deal of extra effort and how much more strain it put on the already under nourished rickshaw pullers. Ironically, this deterioration was happening at a time when India was witnessing a major revolution in the technology for motorized vehicles--fancy new cars, scooters, vans and even bicycles.

Similarly, the shoddy pushcarts used by street hawkers and the ramshackle state of vendor stalls depressed me no end. Whenever I went abroad, especially to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, I would find myself envying the aesthetically organized hawker markets and vendor stalls.

So I began asking every rickshaw puller and street vendor I met why they did not keep their rickshaws and push carts or roadside stalls in good condition, why rickshaw pullers and street hawkers did not invest in improving the technology of the vehicles they used so that it took less blood and sweat to pull them.

The accounts I heard came as a huge shock. As chance would have it, at about the same time, I had been commissioned to make a series of documentary films by Doordarshan—the government owned TV channel in India. So I put down what I learnt from my conversations with pullers and owners on film. This film made in 1996-97 described the pervert and corruption friendly licensing system for rickshaws and street vendors prevalent in Delhi and other cities of India.

Since it was a no holds barred expose, I had to fight a year and a half long battle with Doordarshan to get the film screened without any censor cuts. Soon after the screening of the film numerous street vendors and rickshaw owners came knocking at the doors of Manushi office, saying, “This is the first time any one described our plight to the nation in a forthright manner. But things are actually much worse than what you describe. But it is not enough to simply expose the wrongs. Manushi must do something to reform the system.”

Without understanding the implications of our involvement, Manushi began organizing a series of Public Hearings for street vendors and cycle rickshaw pullers. Two of these were presided over by Central Vigilance Commissioner, Shri N. Vittal along with a panel of eminent citizens.

Mr. Vittal was horrified to witness the injustices heaped on these two groups of self employed poor and shot off letters to the Chief Minister of Delhi as well as other concerned authorities.

From this point onward, the Manushi began gathering more and more information about the ground reality by formal as well as video recorded conversations with rickshaw pullers and owners. The following account will provide a glimpse of the injustices often heaped on the poor by government agencies under the guise of protecting them from exploitation by fellow citizens.

The Importance of Cycle Rickshaws

The humble cycle rickshaw has carved out a unique space for itself in most towns and cities of India, including the capital city of Delhi, despite the rapid proliferation of fancy cars and other modern means of transport, including the Metro. During my childhood years, one saw rickshaws plying only in the old Walled City area and the outlying lower middle class colonies in East and West Delhi. Today, one sees them plying even in the university campuses as well as in the elite colonies of South Delhi where each family has at least two cars. This shows a very active consumer demand for their services leading to a steady growth in their numbers despite daily assaults on rickshaw pullers and aggressive confiscation drives of cycle rickshaws ostensibly to check and those who own these vehicles by the police and municipal officials.

While rickshaw plying is altogether banned in the areas governed by the New Delhi Municipal Council, in the areas under the charge of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Cycle Rickshaw Bye Laws passed in 1960 state it blatantly that their aim is not only to “control” the number of rickshaws plying in the City but to ultimately “eliminate” them altogether.

Towards this end the Rickshaw Bye-laws have imposed onerous procedures for acquiring a license, fixed unrealistic quotas for issuing licenses, imposed bizarre restrictions on owning and plying cycle rickshaws arbitrarily declared large parts of the City as “No Entry” zones for rickshaws without as much as putting up sign boards to distinguish entry zones from non entry zones. The laws are so absurd that virtually every rickshaw—whether licensed or unlicensed, ends up being “illegal” Consequently, thousands of rickshaws are destroyed by the corporation every year and many times more are confiscated to be released after paying heavy penalties.

Eco-friendly, Citizen Friendly Vehicle

  • Draconian restrictions on plying rickshaws exist despite the fact that it is an eco-friendly vehicle. Since it does not consume carbon fuels, it does not cause either atmospheric or noise pollution.
  • Each rickshaw covers a distance of 20-25 kms. per day amounting to a total of 120-150 lakh kms for Delhi’s 600,000 rickshaws. If cycle rickshaws are eliminated from Delhi roads it will contribute to much higher levels of air pollution. Discriminatory and Unconstitutional Quotas

Discriminatory and Unconstitutional Quotas

It is noteworthy that there are no quotas on the number of cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles plying in urban centres even though they cause deadly air and noise pollution. But cycle rickshaw ownership is subject to severe controls and pitiful quotas. And yet, the number of cycle rickshaws has kept increasing despite draconian laws and regulations aiming at limiting its role in the city and erasing its existence from the supposedly modern and elite areas of Delhi.

The quota was fixed at 600 during the 1960s; it was raised to 20,000 in 1976; and 50,000 in 1993, when the actual number plying was reported to be 4, 50,000.

In 1997, it was raised to 99,000. However, up to 2007, the MCD had issued 89,429 rickshaw licenses, nearly 10,000 less than the sanctioned quota. However, almost all of these licensed rickshaws also carry the stigma of “illegality.”

In 2008, under the guise of “scientific management” of rickshaws, the quota was reduced to 52,000 at a time when according to MCD’s own admission in the Supreme Court more than 6,00,000 rickshaws are reportedly plying in the City, including trolley rickshaws for carrying goods and garbage. In fact, the MCD does not have an accurate count of rickshaws plying in the streets of Delhi, since most of the rickshaws operate illegally and therefore do not show up in the record books. But one thing is clear: the policy of restrictive licensing has failed to keep down the number of rickshaws because of growing public demand for their services.

The slow and measly increase in the quota did not happen automatically. It was grudgingly sanctioned after rickshaw operators fought long drawn out battles in the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India The ceiling has always been adjusted in an ad hoc and post facto manner, but it has never been anywhere near the actual numbers of rickshaws that reflects the growing demand for their services.

The arbitrary setting of ceilings violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India. It also goes against, and is in contempt of, earlier Supreme Court Orders both in letter and spirit as given, for example, in All Delhi Cycle Rickshaw Operators Union v. Delhi Municipal Corpn (AIR 1987 SC 648 (Para 4) and Nanhu & Ors. Vs Delhi Administration & Ors. 1981 (1) SCR 373) which give aggrieved parties the right to challenge arbitrary ceilings and quotas, and directs the Delhi Administration to adopt reasonable and relevant criteria in setting ceilings on the number of licenses to be issued for Delhi. Also, it goes against the spirit of the Supreme Court Order which directs that there is need for positive measures to protect the rights of rickshaw pullers rather than a negative ban on licensing.

Important Source of livelihood for the Poor

  • Cycle rickshaw provides an instant means of livelihood for poor rural migrants. Within a few hours of arriving in the city, a rickshaw puller is able to not only earn enough to buy food the day but also to save something for sending home.
  • Savings from rickshaw pulling are sent home and help sustain their families in the village.
  • Farming would be even more crisis ridden and more destitute people will flood the cities without these urban remittances

Earning Potential of Rickshaw Trade

When Manushi began interviewing cycle rickshaw pullers in 1996-1997, the hire charges for a rickshaw was Rs 15 per day. By 2001, it had increased to Rs 20 per day. In 2009, pullers are paying a rent of Rs 40- 50 per day and rent free hire on Sundays. This rental appears exorbitant considering that it amounts to more than one fifth the cost of a new vehicle which costs about Rs 7000 today. But given the high risks, high bribes, routine losses and other costs incurred in owning a rickshaw for hire, the vast majority of pullers prefer to rent the vehicle rather than own it.
  • Today a rickshaw puller in Delhi earns Rs 200 to 250 per day depending on the number of hours and distances he pulls the rickshaw as well as the area in which he plies.
  • Thus a rickshaw puller earns at least 4 to 7 times of what he pays by way of rent.
  • By contrast, a man who hires a three-wheeler auto rickshaw pays Rs 350 per day towards the rental for the vehicle and earns on an average Rs 300 per day.
Thus this sector provides relatively high returns on modest investment for both pullers and owners.

Complex Web of Illegality

However, it is not just the unlicensed rickshaws which are treated as illegal. The web of illegality woven by the municipal bodies in India has made every single rickshaw illegal and liable to severe penalties. Here is a sample of the absurd regulations that govern this trade.
  • One needs two kinds of licenses to ply a rickshaw, viz., (1) Puller's license and (2) Owner's license
  • These two licenses are not available year round on demand, as is the case with licenses for motorized vehicles. Applications for these are invited as and when the municipal officials whimsically decide to do so. Applying for a rickshaw owner/ puller license is no guarantee of getting it. For example, since 2007, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has not issued a single puller license, nor renewed old licenses.
  • But the offense of one plying a rickshaw without the above mentioned two licenses is punishable with confiscation and destruction of the vehicle!
  • A person can own hundreds of trucks, buses and even jet planes BUT owning more than one cycle rickshaw is illegal.
  • The punishment for owning more than one cycle rickshaw is confiscation and destruction of the vehicle!
  • A person who owns a truck or bus or taxi may hire whoever he/she may like to ply that vehicle BUT in the case of cycle rickshaws owner must himself be a puller.
  • Punishment for letting another person, including your own brother ply your rickshaw? Confiscation and destruction of the vehicle !
  • Punishment for plying a rickshaw that you do not own yourself? Confiscation and destruction of the vehicle!

Why Pullers Find it Impossible to be Owners

MCD policy mandates that “Owner must be Puller” and vice versa, but most rickshaws are in fact rented by seasonal migrants from entrepreneurs who own a 5 to 500 rickshaws. Pullers are actively prevented by MCD staff from owning rickshaws by various devious means. Getting a rickshaw license is almost impossible for a poor man because:
  • Unlike registration for cars, trucks and buses rickshaw registration is not open all year round. It is open and shut arbitrarily every couple of years for 4-6 weeks as and when MCD pleases. Even if a puller manages to own a rickshaw, it remains “illegal” for him to ply it for as long as he does not get a license. It is liable to confiscation and destruction if the puller does not succeed in getting a license.
  • Pullers can neither afford the time required in getting a license nor the risks involved in owning a rickshaw.
  • Licenses don’t come without heavy bribes and cumbersome legal procedures.
  • Pullers stay in the city for some months, save money and go home for some days or weeks. They have no way to keep their vehicles safe during their absence from the city.
  • Even when they are in the city, most sleep on pavements or share small jhuggis with fellow migrants. They have no place to park their vehicle safely at night.
  • If they rent out or even let a family member drive their vehicle when they go to village, it will be confiscated.
  • Since 2007, MCD has altogether stopped issuing or renewing puller licenses.
To avoid risk of losing the vehicle, pullers therefore find it convenient to rent from fleet owners. That makes their existence also illegal.

Therefore, almost all cycle rickshaws are owned by entrepreneurs who rent them out at Rs 35 to 50 per day. The rates have doubled in the last 5 years because of heavier bribes and more aggressive confiscation drives. Thus even the 89,429 odd licensed rickshaws are in effect “illegal”.

Implications of “Owner MUST be Puller” Policy

  • Airplanes are not confiscated if the owner is not piloting all or any of his planes;
  • Trucks, buses and taxis are not confiscated if the owners hire others to drive them.
By enacting a law that prohibits a person from owning more than one rickshaw and by insisting that “owner must also be puller” the government has in fact legislated that:
  • A person who begins his life as a puller, must die as a puller;
  • The poor must remain manual laborers all their lives;
  • The poor are not allowed to become even petty entrepreneurs.

The Drama of Raids and Confiscation Drives

  • Both licensed and unlicensed rickshaws are confiscated under the guise of checking licenses.
  • Rickshaw owners then run after municipal officials and try to strike a bargain so that they can get the vehicle released before it is entered in the record book.
  • Once the vehicle is entered in the record book, the minimum fine for its release is Rs 325 if the owner manages to get it released the same day by bringing in the required documents to “prove” that the owner was actually pulling it.
  • Each day it stays in municipal yard, the owner pays a store charge of Rs. 100 per day plus expenses on paper work all of which amount to no less than Rs 400-600.
  • After 7 days the vehicle cannot be released. It is meant to be crushed and sold as junk.
  • Even licensed rickshaws are frequently impounded on the ground that they are causing road congestion. By contrast, cars or buses are never impounded simply because there is a traffic jam on the road.

Malafide and Devious Defamation

MCD officials have thus far justified their absurd “owner must be puller” policy on the grounds that rickshaw owners represent an exploitative class of people, because they live off the rent charged from “poor pullers”. They have been able to get the Supreme Court and various High Courts of India to outlaw their existence by projecting them as “mafia dons” who fleece the poor. Hence the “owner must be puller” policy is justified on high moral ground as being pro-poor. The reality is just the contrary – a case of defaming those who they exploit most:
  • When the owner of an airline acquires an additional fleet of planes, or a truck owner manages to expand his fleet to several hundred vehicles, he is celebrated as a successful entrepreneur. BUT when a person comes to acquire a few dozen or a few hundred rickshaws stigmatize him as a mafia don.
  • A new rickshaw costs about 7000 Rs. Even if you own 100 rickshaws, it represents a total capital of no more than Rs 700, 000. By contrast a truck costs no less than Rs 10 lakhs. Thus a person owning 100 trucks or buses owns a capital of no less than 10 crores.
Contrary to the official version that the rickshaw trade is controlled by mafia dons, most rickshaw owners started their lives as pullers or mechanics.

Why is upward mobility and entrepreneurial spirit treated as a virtual crime for those among the poor who manage to rise higher in life? Why must a man who starts his working life as a puller, remain a puller all his life?

Real Reason for Denying Licenses to Actual Pullers
  • As seasonal migrants, pullers come and go as their situation demands. Even while in the city they are constantly on the move. Therefore, it is very difficult for municipal staff and the police to collect daily bribes from lakhs of floating population of pullers in the city.
  • It is far easier for them to collect bribes from rickshaw fleet owners who have set places and workshops where their vehicles are parked at night and repaired during the day. It is also easy for them to keep a count of the vehicles owned by each fleet operator and collect monthly payments as well as be with feasted liquor, food and other gifts every now and then.

No Legal Parking

  • Huge amounts of public space is provided for authorized car parks, including provision of multi layered underground parking lots built at huge cost. By contrast, there are no authorized parking spaces for cycle rickshaws. Therefore, their presence is illegal everywhere. The owners have to pay regular bribes to the police and municipal official for using public space for parking rickshaws.
  • Rickshaw Owners’ Unions have fought prolonged battles in the High Court and Supreme Court for allocation of parking spaces. As a result of interventions by the Delhi High Court, 406 rickshaw stands were finally sanctioned for parking rickshaws. However, the sanctioned parking stands exist mostly on paper.
Since there are hardly any authorized stands for rickshaws the traffic policemen routinely inflict the danda treatment on the pullers on the ground that they have no right to park their vehicles on the roadside. Again, the main purpose of these beatings is to keep them in a state of terror so that they do not resist paying bribes. The fleet owners use public space “illegally” by monthly offerings to the MCD and local police.

Regular Income Losses

The illegal status of cycle rickshaws makes their owners and pullers make them vulnerable to extortion on a variety of pretexts. Each rickshaw carries a code word to indicate who is responsible for paying bribe for that rickshaw.

In addition to regular monthly bribes, there is regular loss of income due to confiscation, fines and destruction of vehicles.

As per its admission in the High Court, the MCD confiscates around 60,000 rickshaws every year. For every rickshaw that is entered into municipal records as a confiscated rickshaw, at least 10 are released through pay offs demanded from rickshaw owners.

An unlicensed rickshaw once shown in official records as confiscated cannot be released even after paying fines. It has to be destroyed. Licenses rickshaws are confiscated on rounds that the owner is not the pullers. Unlicensed rickshaws are doubly vulnerable to confiscation drives.
Add to it the bribes collected by the MCD and the Traffic Police from each owners and puller on account of arbitrary entry bans on rickshaws in most parts of the City.

In Delhi alone the terror unleashed by the License-Quota-Raid-Raj on rickshaw-owners and pullers leads to loss of income through bribes and confiscation of rickshaws worth Rs 360 cores per year.

Daily Unprovoked Beatings by Police

Large parts of the city have been arbitrarily declared as No Entry Zones for rickshaws, This includes large areas in the old Walled City where cycle rickshaws are the primary means of transport for local residents. The Result? Daily bribes and beatings:
  • Since the public demand for rickshaws continues to be high, even in “No entry Zones”, rickshaws continue to ply in these areas. All it means is that pullers are subjected to routine beatings by the police and have to pay bribes to operate there.
  • It is a common sight to see the policemen puncture the tyres of rickshaws with sharp metal objects as punishment for plying in crowded areas or entering forbidden zones. The rickshaw puller has to pay for these multiple punctures from his own pocket, thus depressing his daily income. If he is plying a trolley rickshaw loaded with heavy goods, it means loss of the day’s income plus the additional strain of pulling a flat tyred vehicle to a nearby repair shop.
  • In addition, the traffic police and MCD officials routinely confiscate rickshaws to “decongest” roads. Some of these are released after on the spot pay offs. Many of these get dumped in municipal yards and are released after hefty penalties involving a great deal of running around to complete legal formalities.
  • For any real or imagined traffic violation, the police are allowed to charge a minimum of Rs 100 as fine from the pullers
If the vehicle is confiscated and sent to the municipal yard, even if it is a licensed rickshaw being driven by its rightful owner, the minimum fine required to get it released is Rs 325, if done within a day. Normally it takes about 3-4 days of running around and fines, bribes and other expenses worth Rs 400-600 to get a vehicle released. After the seven days, the vehicle cannot be released.

The Prime Minister’s Policy of 2001

In response to a series of Public Hearings of rickshaw pullers and owners and street vendors organized by Manushi Prime Minister Vajpayee announced a new policy for cycle rickshaws and street vendors in Delhi in August 2001. Key features of this policy are as follows:
  • Let the laws of market demand and supply determine the number of vendors and rickshaws in the city rather than bureaucratic quotas.
  • The metropolis may be divided into “green”, “amber” and “red” zones, free access, fee based access and prohibited access, respectively.
  • There must be an absolute prohibition on municipal and police authorities from impounding, or destruction, or seizure, of goods and equipment, except when permitted under other laws.
  • Any person who wishes to be a rickshaw puller/owner or street vendor may do so by a simple act of registration involving two steps: (a) reliable identification by any means and (b) payment of a nominal fee to cover costs for issue of a photo identification card.
  • Purpose of the registration is to provide reliable identification for the purposes noted above. It is not a permit to ply the trade. No such permit is needed.
  • A registered rickshaw puller/ street hawker who wishes to operate in “amber” zone, may do so by paying a fee, upon which a sticker to the effect may be affixed on the registration id.
  • Numbers of street hawkers/cycle rickshaws in the “amber” zones may be regulated by adjustment of the amount of fee periodically. Penalties for plying in an “amber” zone without payment of fee may involve a financial penalty, in addition to the fee but in any case there must be an absolute prohibition on municipal and police authorities from impounding, or destruction, or seizure of goods and equipment.
  • Non-government organizations with a record of working for the welfare of these groups may be authorized to interface between them and the concerned authorities.

Operation Sabotage

Unfortunately, instead of implementing the PM’s policy, the MCD and the Police introduced even more draconian restrictions on the rickshaw trade.

The MCD deftly manipulated an innocuous petition led by a person named Hemraj against the MCD to project cycle rickshaws as one of the main causes of road congestion before the Court. With misleading information supplied by the MCD and Delhi Police, The Delhi High Court made a decision that ordered the complete ban of cycle rickshaws from the Chandni Chowk area ostensibly to avoid traffic congestion and ensure its smooth flow. In the same order, cycle rickshaws were prohibited on all arterial roads of Delhi. The reason provided by the High Court was that these roads are meant for motorized transport and the plying of rickshaws in these areas would slow down the traffic, resulting in congestion. However, it is known that the congestion is due to poor observance of traffic rules and non-implementation of lane-driving, and because no separate lanes have been provided for slow moving non-motorized traffic such as cycle rickshaw handcarts and cycles.

Since at the time neither Manushi nor the Rickshaw Operator’s Union were aware of the Hemraj case and the direction it was taking we were unable to intervene and bring the relevant facts to the Court’s notice.

MCD’s Idea of Reform and “Scientific Management”

After the Court’s ruling in the Hemraj case, the MCD took actions to enforce more restrictions on cycle rickshaws that were not only unrealistic, but actually made the lives of pullers worse. This resolution, passed by the MCD in 2007 imposed a “scheme of Scientific Management of Cycle Rickshaws”. This involved installing sensor chips to monitor rickshaws, issuing of photo ID cards and number plates. But apart from promising these gizmos, the plan was a total mumbo-jumbo.
Scientific management involves taking stock of the ground reality in all its complexities, evolving a workable, corruption free and citizen friendly scheme of management. Under the new scheme the MCD was doing the very opposite.

Besides maintaining past flawed restrictions, such as the “owner must be puller” policy, nearly 80% of city roads were declared, “No Entry Zones” i.e. out of bounds for cycle rickshaws by this resolution. Without entering these “No Entry Zones” rickshaws could not ply even in permitted zones. This resolution made their existence virtually illegal everywhere. Also, new licenses could only be issued according to an imagined “rickshaw carrying capacity of roads and lanes.”
The MCD further reduced the rickshaw quota to 52,000.

Rickshaws are Most Efficient Use of Road Space

The bans and restrictions on the numbers of rickshaws in the city and bans on its entry in several parts of the city are justified on the ground that rickshaws cause traffic congestion and obstruct the smooth flow of traffic. Facts tell the very opposite story:
The primary cause of road congestion is the increasing number of cars and other motorized vehicles in the city.
  • Delhi already has nearly 60 lakh motorized vehicles with a thousand vehicles being added every day.
  • When a car is made to go slow due to traffic snarls it emits greater amounts of pollution and also damages the engine.
  • A rickshaw is intrinsically slow moving and therefore moves more easily in areas of congestion.
  • A car takes at least ten times road space as compared to a rickshaw not only because it is bigger in size but also because road safety demands at least 12-15 feet space between one motorized vehicle and another for safe driving.
  • Rickshaws can move bumper to bumper without causing deadly accidents.
  • A car is an object of convenience for just the person or family that uses the vehicle. On an average a car provides service to no more than two to four people a day. When a car is parked it blocks road space and makes it dead for other road users.
  • By contrast a rickshaw carries at least 30 to 40 persons a day and is constantly on the move. Therefore, it represents optimum utilization of road space.
  • Our government policies encourage the proliferation and increase in the number of cars in the city. Not just private banks but even nationalized banks chase customers to avail of car loans despite the fact that the available road space in our cities cannot possibly accommodate the rate of increase in private cars.
  • Less than 15% citizens in Delhi own private motorized vehicles while 85% have to rely on public transport of which cycle rickshaws are a very crucial part.
  • Yet, in utter disregard of the needs of citizens without cars, our civic agencies provide no road space for non-motorized vehicles.
  • Government spends crores of rupees on building flyovers, six lane motorways and earmarking huge amounts of space for car parks. However, there are no separate tracks for rickshaws and other forms of non-motorized vehicles. Thus rickshaw pullers and cyclists have to compete for road space with trucks buses and cars at great risk to their lives.

More Absurdities Added to Qualifying Criteria for Issue of Licenses

Must own private parking space: As per the MCD new scheme one cannot get an owner’s license if a puller does not have a private parking space for the vehicle. No poor puller can afford to buy or rent a house with enough private parking space. Most of them sleep on the pavements or in the “illegal” rickshaw yards of fleet owners. Moreover, if car owners, truck owners, bus owners are not required to own a private parking space, why this special requirement for rickshaw pullers?

Medical fitness to be certified: This scheme proposed that at the time of renewal of license, the owner-cum-puller would have to fulfill several qualifying criteria involving pointless bureaucratic measures. For example, one of the requirements is a medical check up at a Government Hospital. The message is clear that if they fail the medical test, they will be denied a puller licenses. It is well known that the poorest of the poor come to pull rickshaws. Most of the are undernourished and underweight. Many have poverty related diseases like TB. Considering that the government does not have any year round employment for such people and their families, does it have the right to prevent them from earning their livelihood through whatever legal means available to them?

Residence proof required for Delhi: The policy plan also reads, “the license will be granted only to a person who has a valid ration card or voter ID card of Delhi and has been residing in Delhi for at least one year (This condition…will help those who are genuine persons and prevent the unwanted social elements from obtaining a cycle rickshaw license.)” How does a person become an “unwanted element” simply because he has not stayed in Delhi for over a year and failed to obtain a voter ID card? Given that most cycle rickshaw pullers are seasonal migrants, this insistence on limiting the issue of puller licenses to those who have acquired a permanent address and voter ID card in Delhi goes against genuine needs of rural migrants for seasonal livelihood in urban areas.

Draconian penalties: Every rickshaw owner who did not conform to the new system is to be penalized at Rs 100 per day till a month, followed by impounding and destruction of the rickshaw. Also, any unlicensed or licensed rickshaw driven by an unlicensed puller will invite a fine of Rs. 300. All this meant was that pullers had to shell out even more daily bribes to escape the heavy and unfair penalties proposed by Resolution 856.

Manushi’s Appeal in the High Court

In June 2007 Manushi Sangathan filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court against the unconstitutional and exploitative provisions of the Cycle Rickshaw Policy of the MCD. The goal of Manushi’s petition is to strike down Byelaw 3(1) of the Delhi Cycle Rickshaw Byelaws, which requires every rickshaw puller to own his own rickshaw.

We demanded that cycle rickshaws sector be:

o Treated as an integral part of the public transport system and recognize it as a legitimate trade
o Provided year round open licensing system.
o Not subject to discriminatory laws such as the “Owner must be Puller” requirement.
o Not subject to arbitrary confiscation and destruction under the guise of decongesting the City.
o Provided separate tracks for non motorized transport.
o Subject Fee based regulation of numbers rather than arbitrary bureaucratic quotas.
o Provided parking lots and stands as well as day halts.
o Provided assistance to upgrade rickshaw technology.

As this petition was pending before the High Court, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was busy creating new and more unjust policies concerning cycle-rickshaws.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi 2008 Order

In order to operationalize the 2007 “scheme for scientific management” the Municipal Corporation passed an order that allowed forcible seizure of unlicensed cycle rickshaws and rickshaws plying on arterial roads in MCD areas and consequent scrapping and dismantling of the same within 7 days of being impounded. Earlier, rickshaw owners were given a 15 day period to get confiscated vehicles released. The penalties were also raised. Before, the minimum fine was Rs 100 plus 25 per day as storage charges. This was increased to a minimum fine of Rs 300 plus Rs 100 per day as storage charges. This, despites the fact that the Cycle Rickshaw Byelaws of 1960 lay down a fine of 50 Rs only.

Manushi’s Response

Considering that almost every single rickshaw bears the brunt of illegality due to a devious licensing system, we challenged this order as impractical and unconstitutional. Many of the pullers who ply in rickshaws do not have licenses, because the MCD will not issue them licenses. Manushi argued that “where a license has expired and is not renewed by the MCD for no fault of the owner or the puller…no penalty ought to be levied and the cycle rickshaw cannot be seized or scrapped.” The petition also points out to the court, the ways in which Resolution 613 is in direct contradiction with the the Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, which clearly recognizes the need for encouraging the use of cycle rickshaws in the city not only because they provide employment to a large number of unskilled workers but also because they are eco friendly. The Master Plan mandates that instead of banning rickshaws on arterial roads, fully segregated cycle tracks should be provided. The Master Plan also states that in congested commercial areas like Chandni Chowk, Karol Bagh, Lajpat Nagar etc. the provisions for rickshaws should be consciously planned along with pedestrianisation of the area.

All Delhi Cycle Rickshaw Operators’ Union vs. Delhi Commissioner of Police vs. Municipal Corporation of Delhi

Encouraged by the sympathetic response of the High Court Bench hearing the case, The All Delhi Cycle Rickshaw Operators’ Union filed an intervention against the MCD & The Commissioner of Police of Delhi, also stating that Resolution No. 613 is loaded with gross illegality and unconstitutionality, whereby rendering absolutely unsustainable in law.

The petition challenges Resolution No. 613, because it is in straight infraction of the Delhi Rickshaw Bye-Laws of 1960. The provisions of the new policy arbitrarily and illegally discriminate against the cycle rickshaw pullers and cycle rickshaws in favor of other modes of transportation. The petition also requested that the Court order the MCD to provide stands and parking for the safe keeping of rickshaws, affordable service stations and that seized licensed rickshaws be immediately released without penalty.

However, the Cycle Operators’ Union continues to be wary of demanding the basic right for fleet owners to own more than one cycle rickshaw. In all the years of battling with the courts, Manushi alone has dared to make this demand. Rickshaw owners have avoided challenging the gross discrimination practiced against them by denying them the right to own and rent rickshaws. This is understandable considering that the MCD officials had succeeded in projecting them as virtual criminals and mafia dons. This negative image was projected by officials not just before the courts, but also to the the public at large by running a sustained campaign against them through the media. The “Owner Must be Puller” policy, institutionalized by section 3(1) of the Cycle Rickshaw Bye Laws (1960) is not only unconstitutional, but is designed to trap rickshaw owners and pullers in a web of illegality.

The Current Status of the Campaign

In its very first meeting of the MCD’s Committee to review the cycle rickshaw policy, it became clear that our biggest challenge was to deal with the prejudice against rickshaws among senior officers of Delhi Traffic Police who see rickshaws as pure nuisance and the primary cause of road congestion. The DTP representatives argued vehemently that continuation of cycle rickshaws conveys a very negative image of India as a “backward” country at a time when India is moving to become a global power. It was argued that they need to be eliminated, rather than encouraged.

However, the urban planners on the Committee and the Addl. Commissioner, MCD who chaired the meeting felt strongly that the City needs to be sensitive to legitimate needs of all categories of citizens and provide space for even those who commute by cycle rickshaws. The city roads cannot be monopolized by motorized traffic alone, especially considering that only 15% of Delhi’s populations own motorized vehicles and the City is already choking with air and noise pollution.

In this meeting the task of drafting a new policy framework was assigned to Madhu Kishwar. The prejudice against the poor and resistance to a pro rickshaw policy is deep rooted. In addition, the vested interests in the MCD is well entrenched, even though present the Commissioner MCD is personally sympathetic.