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.

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