Sunday, September 14, 2014

Plight of electric rickshaws

Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist happened to mention that “Law is an ass”. There have been several examples where Mr. Bumble’s assertion was found to be true. A recent happening in our country proved once again how true the statement was.

The Delhi High court had banned plying of e-rickshaws in Delhi and has since issued orders of continuance of the ban. The ban was imposed on account of a petition filed against their plying as, it was contended, that they are hazardous for the general public having met with two accidents and these were not covered by the Motor Vehicles laws currently in force. Both the contentions seem to be untenable as motorised automobiles of various makes have met with accidents in Delhi, traffic in the city being what it is. These, too,  should be treated as hazardous but these have not been banned because their running on city roads is covered by the extant law. If the e-rickshaws are not covered by these laws the vehicles could be allowed to ply for a short term within which the executive could be directed to bring them within the ambit of the laws only for the reason that these are beneficial. But no, the ban was extended.

One did not know that a large number of such rickshaws were plying in Delhi. No wonder, as a consequence of the continued ban, the livelihood of the rickshaw pliers is affected. This apart, Delhi today is the most polluted city in the world, having beaten Beijing in the recent past. The e-rickshaws running on battery would have mitigated the air-pollution to some extent. True, Delhi now has auto-rickshaws running on CNG but they are not pollution-free. They are not as green as the e-rickshaws which have zero emission and do not foul up the air. These rickshaws, therefore, could be beneficial for the city’s air and could come in handy for the commuters.

Some have contended that these are not as pollution-free as claimed as they charge their batteries from outlets that are fed by thermal power plants which are highly polluting and produce “dirty power”. But, since there is no source of “clean power” the rickshaw operators would seem to have no other alternative. There is no gainsaying the fact that these rickshaws help in a limited way in controlling air pollution in a highly polluted city by cutting out emissions. As regards the concern expressed in respect of disposal of their batteries, these are mostly recycled and resold to consumers.

The indefinite continuance of the ban on e-rickshaws is therefore not in the larger interests of the people of Delhi. The whole thing seems to have got entangled in the bureaucratic web of rules and legal provisions and those who invested in assembling the
rickshaws have landed up with a product in their hands which the government does not seem to be too keen to clear. Between the executive and the judiciary a beneficial industry is being stifled and the people are being denied its benefits. No wonder investors from all over the world say it is difficult to do business in this country. Is the CNG auto-rickshaws manufacturers’ lobby at work? One wonders!

There are, indeed, laws and laws in the country most of which would seem to be “asses”.
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DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...