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Hand-pulled rickshaws to go off Kolkata roads

Press Trust of India

Posted: Aug 15, 2005 at 1403 hrs IST

The hand-pulled rickshaw, immortalised as a living symbol of Kolkata in films like City of Joy would soon go off its roads with the state government deciding to replace them with other modes of transport.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee told reporters today that hand-pulled rickshaws had long been considered "inhuman" and that the practice did not exist anywhere else.

"We have taken a policy decision to take the hand-drawn rickshaw off the roads of Kolkata on humanitarian grounds. Nowhere else in the world does this practice exist and we think it should also cease to exist in Kolkata," Bhattacharjee said.

However, it would take four to five more months before the metropolis sees the last of these rickshaws.

"We are thinking of alternative modes of transport so that the transition does not affect either the pullers or its riders. This involves money and training. It would take about four to five months before the rickshaws are finally gone," he said.

The scheme would be introduced in parts of the metro on an experimental basis before the rickshaws are finally withdrawn in phases, the Chief Minister said.

A recent study by NGO Action Aid India had put the number of hand-rickshaw pullers at 18,000 with over 1,800 more joining the pool every year to carry the burden of fellow humans on their shoulders.

The state government's transport department, Kolkata municipal corporation and Kolkata police are collaborating on finding an alternate mode of transport that could replace the hand-pulled rickshaws.

Asked if abolishing the rickshaws would mean giving up one of the "traditions" of Bengal, Bhattacharjee said, "It is not a tradition but has been perceived as one by some western countries."

The hand-pulled rickshaw has not disappeared from the city despite bans imposed by the government and police action.

In 1996, the state government had banned hand-pulled rickshaws and confiscated thousands of them for destruction before finally backing out following massive protests. The 'human-engines' were then allowed to operate in areas away from major traffic corridors.

The following year, the government tried to lure the rickshaw-pullers with a version of the golden handshake offering them Rs 12,000 on surrender of their rickshaws. Not a single person accepted the amount - five times the cost of a rickshaw.

According to the Action Aid study, the majority of hand-rickshaw pullers are above 45 years of age and 60 per cent of them suffer from tuberculosis and other lung diseases.

Toiling for over 12 hours a day, a hand-rickshaw puller earns Rs 100-120 daily, out of which he has to pay Rs 20-30 to the rickshaw owner and then send Rs 40-50 to their families back home, it said.

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