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E-rickshaws: Complete ban is nonsensical, all it needs is regulation.

India, Aug. 6 -- The last time I wrote about the need to regulate the plying of electronic rickshaws in Delhi, the issue had not taken centre stage in the way it is now. The death of a 2 year old in East Delhi last week along with Delhi Traffic Police's claim that e-rickshaws have led to 29 accidents and at least 2 more deaths in the past, has made it more serious and urgent.

The facts of the matter hasn't changed much. As a means of last mile connectivity, e-rickshaws are a very credible and modern alternative to either gasoline/diesel or even CNG driven three wheelers or the good old cycle rickshaw. They are light and nimble, cost less than half of a motorized three wheeler and hence should offer a very affordable means of transport. Most importantly-they run on batteries that do not pollute the environment with noxious fumes.

The problem is of lack of regulation. Some people misconstrue the clamour for this as being elitist or myopic. Even as we inherently shun any kind of regulation on any field of life, any motorised way of transportation needs to be regulated. Like it or not there is no reason to believe otherwise. The fact that 137 cases have been registered against e rickshaw drivers for rash and negligent driving proves that even the slowest of vehicles can be rash and dangerous.

The number of e rickshaws in Delhi has proliferated in the last 2 years but it has not happened secretly. The local administration has been hand and glove taking cuts and making money while allowing these vehicles to be on the road. Without registration or insurance, the drivers made merry-overloading and overcharging and breaking traffic rules at will. As a fellow vehicle user, I can attest to the fact that these seemingly harmless noiseless creatures can indeed hurt. Many of the drivers do not even have a driving license. It is a separate matter that having a driver's license is not a certificate of your driving prowess or traffic sense.

We are habitual offenders as far as policy making is concerned and repeated government changes somehow has had no impact on that. Ideally, for any new type of vehicle to hit the road the rules need to be prescribed beforehand. Instead in India, the vehicles are either ready as in the case of the Bajaj RE60 quadricycle, or already on the road in the e-rickshaw case, and then the framework is designed to permit them to be in existence. It is not only idiotic, but can also be tragic.

We are fortunate that the courts in the country are still functioning the way they ought to. And also serving as our conscience keeper in the process. Without them perhaps, the government in its hurry to appease the e-rickshaw owner and driver lobby that is fast emerging as a vote bank, would have bulldozed its way to formulating the regulations and kept the e-rickshaws outside the ambit of the Motor Vehicles Act. Arguing that they would replace cycle rickshaws that themselves do not warrant registration or insurance is another example of idiocy. Pray tell me who has ever died after being hit by a cycle rickshaw. Or even grievously wounded.

Going the other extreme of banning e rickshaws entirely is equally nonsensical. The need of the hour, as the High Court suggests, is for the government to finally get its act together and come up with a set of regulations. Allow the e-rickshaws to ply but only after registration and insurance. Restrict them to arterial roads and by lanes of the city and keep them away from major roads and highways where they cannot keep pace with the traffic. Lastly, ensure the drivers at least have a basic sense of traffic.

The sooner the regulations are in place, the better. If not, keep them away from the roads. Sadly, we do not have any other alternative and cannot let another 2 year old to die to rouse ourselves.

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Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Aug 6, 2014
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