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.


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