Opinion

Electrifying governance

R Srinivasan | Updated on July 02, 2014 Published on July 02, 2014

The debate over electric rickshaws exposes the hollowness of the establishment’s ‘pro poor’ stance

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is in the eye of a storm after announcing at a rally last week in the capital that electric rickshaws will not come under the ambit of the Motor Vehicles Act and will, therefore, not be illegal to operate.

The controversy over whether or not the minister has an interest in a company manufacturing these rickshaws has overshadowed a much more important issue — the complete lack of say the poor and the under-privileged have in policymaking. Of course, the ostensible reason for the move was, naturally, for the benefit of the poor. After all, these rickshaws, increasingly ubiquitous on Delhi’s roads, are operated by poor migrants. And their users are mostly in that ‘sandwich’ class — out of outright poverty, but liable to slip back into it at any moment.

These contraptions, operating with a smallelectric motor and offering cramped seating for four to six persons, offer them a cheap ride. For between ₹5 and ₹10 a go, one could get a quick, point-to-point ride of a couple of kilometres, in a noiseless, pollution-less vehicle. Good for them, good for the environment and good for the Government which did not have to spend a penny in creating, operating or subsidising a public service.

But the poor had nothing to do with the move. The rickshaw operators are a sizeable vote-bank. With elections due in Delhi soon, the BJP wanted in. Besides, the Congress in Delhi had made them illegal, so bonus points there too.

Of course, these rickshaws are sometimes a nuisance, and not being under any law means they neither have registrations, nor do the drivers have licences. But simply promising to not throw the might of the State at these vehicles does not give the Government any bragging rights. Do the owners get bank loans to buy them? No. Are there charging stations where they can recharge? No. Are drivers and passengers protected by insurance? No. Do their owners get carbon credits for reducing pollution? No.

What governance are we talking about, then?

Associate Editor

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Published on July 02, 2014
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