A few days back, I had to go to my friend’s birthday celebration and in order to reach the nearest metro station, I had to wait for 15-20 minutes for an E-rickshaw to drive me there. Delhiites would know that 15-20 minutes is a lot of time because such vehicles have recently grown so much in number that it hardly takes more than 5 minutes to find one. No, they don’t have a particular stand like a bus stand or an auto stand, they just stand at a place where they would find the most number of passengers.

So, that day, I went to that “stand” but no E-rickshaws were there but a few traffic policemen.

While waiting, I was observing them. In the meantime, they stopped a few two-wheelers and a truck. I saw a few e-rickshaws that weren’t carrying any passengers but they wouldn’t stop there even when I was a regular passenger to a few of them.

Then, it hit me. I had seen something similar somewhere else. In Janakpuri, when I have to board an e-rickshaw to reach my college, I see the traffic policemen penalizing them. They have also put on a board saying “no e-rickshaws allowed on this road”. Because of this, E-rickshaw drivers have started charging double the amount for each passenger. Once, a man got furious and started arguing as to how can they charge so much. He even threatened the driver saying, “Shaam ko dekhta hu tereko toh, vapis to yahin aayega na!! (Will see you in the evening here, where else will you go!!)”

I wished if just like Uber or Ola Auto there would have been Uber E-rickshaws or something when suddenly I saw an E-rickshaw dropping a passenger nearby. I rushed towards him and asked if he would go to the metro station. He agreed and so I hopped in.

I am a reserved person so usually, I don’t talk much to strangers but I couldn’t control my curiosity and so I started talking to him. (I will refer him as Mr. X)

Me: “Why is there no rickshaws today?”

Mr. X: “Madam, what do I tell you? We are tired of them (the traffic policemen). Suddenly, they come out of nowhere and start penalizing us. You haven’t earned much since morning yet and suddenly you are supposed to pay Rs. 2000. Who would drive a rickshaw if they could carry this much amount every day?”

Me: “Really? What do they penalize you for?”

Mr. X: “There are many things. For example, right now they were charging for no parking. Hence, you couldn’t find any rickshaw parked there today.

We work hard every day to earn money and they take most of it. We have to charge the batteries overnight and then only it runs from morning to noon. This is not even cheap. I bought this for 1 lac rupees on installments and now I have to pay for it too, every month. The expenses of battery, maintenance to avoid any breakdown (and then getting it fixed), the EMI, and then this challan, how will we get enough to feed our family? I couldn’t send money to my kids this month ( his family lives in some other state where he used to work in a factory but due to some reason it shut down so he came to Delhi.)

In fact, now even the traffic policemen pity us so they avoid charging us because they know a poor driver won’t carry so much money.”

Me: “But isn’t there a subsidy thing provided to registered drivers by Delhi Government? Are you not registered? And don’t you have any union or something like auto drivers so you can put forth your problems?”

Mr. X: “ Madam, don’t bother to ask. It is easy to say and even easier to make it a newspaper headline but struggles of getting things done here are real, that too for small people like us. The only thing that used to support was this (the rickshaw) when it was new. I could drive for longer like to Mayapuri, Pitampura etc. but now you can never be sure when it will stop so I only drive in nearby places. Once, the battery was somewhat low but a girl paid me Rs. 100 because she had an exam so I couldn’t refuse because I have kids too. I dropped her to school asap but I had to make a lot of halts while returning.”

Me: “Like petrol pumps, aren’t there any places where you can charge batteries in such emergencies?”

Mr. X: “Kahan Madam? We have to leave it on overnight at our place. Even if you charge it for 2-3 hours it won’t even reach 25%.”

I didn’t know much about their traffic rules and policies other than that many e-rickshaws had became illegal so whatever he told me I believed. I wanted to listen to him more thinking maybe this will at least make him feel better but I had reached my destination and I was already late. Even though I left, I wanted to do something for him and all other drivers like him. I had a lot of questions like, this is a pollution-free vehicle which should be promoted, the most. A city like Delhi needs this. Then why do they have so many restrictions? We, as passengers find them most comfortable to travel. I mean it is safer than auto rickshaw because it is open and faster than a manual rickshaw. If they can’t idle park at bus stops then why aren’t there separated stops for them where they can find passengers? Why are registrations for e-rickshaws so complicated in real when not in papers?

I came home and researched to find answers to all the possible questions in my head. I thought there might be information that Mr. X and I are unaware of so I went through delhi.gov.in to find information regarding this. I found out that there are actually some “road restrictions” that includes roads from where I travel almost daily.

List of south-west region in Delhi where E-rickshaws are prohibited for plying

Other than that, they have to get their vehicle approved in accordance with the motor vehicle act,1988 under section 126; registered as a transport vehicle under series DL-1ER and should have a valid fitness certificate. [1]

The following excerpt is taken from a post by www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in , and it turned out because of a lot of mishaps, they were termed as “unsafe” for the general public.

But to “mitigate extreme hardship to tens of thousands of E-rickshaw operators and their families and to mitigate hardships to lakhs of citizens of Delhi in terms of last mile connectivity”, the Central Government had urged to permit the operation of E-rickshaws in Delhi.

So, technically, for our own safety, they are not supposed to be plying illegally but they are for our and their convenience and so they can’t completely escape from the challan.

And need I not to mention, there are more than 13k cases pending for subsidy. [2] Many of those who drive this, are not “well-educated” which often comes as a disadvantage for them because I am not sure if Mr. X was aware of all of this.

Drivers like Mr. X get into this hoping that one day, they will bring their family here and their house will once again become a home. So, in order to help them, I decided to feature Mr. X in my blog. I know some of you might suggest paying them extra but that isn’t helping them in the long run. They don’t need our pity. They are doing a respectable job. Problem is already out there, we need better solutions.

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