The Hari Putar Dialogues - 27
(The Hindu; October 4: New Delhi: Solar-powered rickshaws called green rickshaws were introduced in Chandni Chowk here on Thursday as part of a pilot project. Each of these rickshaws costs about Rs.17, 000 and the idea is to have them in place of the man-pulled rickshaws. The inaugural ceremony was attended by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, who is the Member of Parliament from Chandni Chowk. The green rickshaws weigh about 210 kg each and are able to run at a speed of 15 to 20 km per hour. )
Putar: According to a report in the Hindu today Solar-powered rickshaws called green rickshaws were introduced in Chandni Chowk as part of a pilot project. It's the right place to have introduced them, don't you think?
Hari: Why do you say that?
Putar: Some streets in that area are so narrow that only small vehicles such as autos and rickshaws can pass through.
Hari: Cycle rickshaws can be more dangerous on wide road that accommodate cars and buses.
Putar: Absolutely. There is no protection for the passengers and the rickshaw puller who are completely exposed. At least in the case of cars and buses the metal frames of those vehicles provide some level of protection.
Hari: That's true. Cars and buses traveling on these wider roads are like powerful forces, even weapons of a kind, against which a rickshaw may accidentally collide. What do you think is the future potential of these new solar powered vehicles?
Putar: They have been touted as a solution to urban India's traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil.
Hari: That's a major claim. Sometimes these so-called innovations are just a lot of hot air, and are not very practical.
Putar: It would be great though if this is not the case here and this project actually takes off.
Hari: If it does, it will be India's second major transport innovation this year ' after the Nano, the world's cheapest car.
Putar: Ordinarily people would have expected something such as the Nano to be designed by a country such as Japan.
Hari: All credit to the Tata's.
Putar: Of course with the Nano, there will be more people who can afford to buy cars, and consequently more traffic congestion and more air pollution. With this new "soleckshaw" as it has been called, there will be no pollution as it will run on solar powered batteries.
Hari: You know I've always felt internally conflicted while using a rickshaw.
Putar: Why is that, Papaji?
Hari: One the one hand I hate the idea of a man ' someone who is quite often aged and infirm to look at ' pedaling away in the heat at a rickshaw on which I am seated, and yet on the other hand I think that he will earn a few extra rupees. That will be better, because he needs the money.
Putar: A news report from AFP quotes Pradip Kumar Sarmah, head of the non-profit Centre for Rural Development as saying: "The most important achievement will be improving the lot of rickshaw drivers. It will dignify the job and reduce the labor of pedaling. From rickshaw pullers, they will become rickshaw drivers." The traffic constables will have to look for someone else to bully now.
Hari: I wonder though if these solar rickshaws will be safer than the other ones.
Putar: According to reports the flimsy metal and wooden frames of the regular rickshaws will be gone. The "soleckshaw," which has a top speed of 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) per hour, has a sturdier frame and foam seats for up to three people. The makeover includes FM radios and power points for charging mobile phones during rides.
Hari: What will the FM radio be used for?
Putar: I guess it could play filmi music for the driver and his passengers. The driver could also check traffic conditions to decide what route to take.
Hari: And what about the mobile phone power points?
Putar: The customers can charge their mobile phones and the rickshaw driver himself as well.
Hari: These days everyone has a mobile phone. If vegetable vendors can own a mobile why can't a rickshaw driver? Customers can also call the rickshaw driver on his mobile to come to their house to pick them up.
Hari: How have passengers and rickshaw drivers reacted to this new development?
Putar: The AFP report mentions how India's Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal took a ride together with Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. He hailed the invention for its "zero carbon foot print' and said it should be used beyond the confines of Delhi. Mohammed Matin Ansari, a rickshaw driver and migrant from eastern Bihar state, said the new model offered parity with car, bus and scooter drivers. "Now we are as good as them," he said.
Hari: It all looks good.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: The announcement that Tata's would make the Nano for 2500 USD sent shock waves throughout the world.
Hari: That is true. Automobile manufacturers across the world have watched this development with apprehension. The two-wheeler industry is in panic because motorcycles and scooters are not that much cheaper, and consumers may prefer to buy the Nano.
Putar: But this solar rickshaw has been developed by the state-run Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Not only is it environmentally friendly, restorative of human dignity, but also fairly cheap at 17,000 rupees. It could be cheaper still if there was mass production.
Hari: That's true.
Putar: With the two-wheeler industry in a panic following the launch of the Nano, logically speaking they should have been the ones to have made such an innovation. And even now they could get into the business.
Hari: And there is a ready market. There are supposed to be eight million cycle rickshaws in the country.
Putar: But the private two-wheeler industry didn't think of it? Could it be that despite their need to survive, and greed to make profit, a prejudice against rickshaws and rickshaw pullers came in the way.
Hari: I don't know, Putar.