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Eco-rickshaws for Sikh Holy City

April 18, 2011:

Eco-Rickshaw in Amritsar. Picture: Tribune News

The district administration of Amritsar this week introduced the first batch of locally-made and locally–designed eco-rickshaws.

Amritsar is a key destination for many thousands of Sikh pilgrims every year, and last September it was nominated as one of the first members of the Green Pilgrim Network, initiated by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) with the support of UNDP. The network is being launched in China in November. This is one of several exciting moves including mass tree planting and recognising March 14th as Sikh Environment Day, which Amritsar has initiated in the past six months.

The new eco-rickshaws include radios connected to a new call centre, which means that in Amritsar, where it can be hard to get transport in some places, you can call yourself an eco-rickshaw. They also have first aid boxes and maps of the city and have been heralded by the Tourist Authority as an improvement for the city.

What makes this an eco-rickshaw?

  • Promotes cycle power rather than motor rickshaws which are pollutive.
  • Makes operating a cycle rickshaw higher status
  • Makes taking a cycle rickshaw higher status and faith-consistent
  • It is made locally
  • It is 20kg lighter than other non-designed rickshaws
  • It is sustainably priced at Rs10,900. The finance repayment of around Rs450 a month can be covered by advertising banners on the back, which can pay around Rs500 a month.
  • The Amritsar administration has also introduced an accident insurance scheme wherein eco-rickshaw drivers have to pay an annual premium of Rs 50 (just over $1 USD). If he then dies while working, his family will receive Rs 1 lakh in compensation.

Deputy Commissioner KS Pannu, who has been a strong force for the environment in Amritsar, told the Tribune News Service that the move to manufacturing the eco-rickshaws in the city has made it not only cost effective but also technically more advanced.

“We would engage technical expertise from the mechanical engineering colleges to make it more advanced”, Pannu said.

“As many as six local cycle rickshaw manufacturers have offered to make more improved version of eco-rickshaw. Definitely, the market competition would force its rate to fall down further,” he added.

Balwinder Singh Nagi of Nagi Rickshaw Company, who designed and manufactured the first batch of this rickshaw told that earlier rickshaws needed more effort by the driver.

“The earlier eco-rickshaw had the pulling mechanism attached to the left hand side, I experimented it to fit on the right hand side with the rear wheel. This worked because ultimately it need less pulling pressure, besides increasing its seating capacity,” told Naagi.

Now drivers can afford their own rickshaws, not just rent

To boost this modified rickshaw in the holy city, the Amritsar administration has tied up with private firms to pay for advertisements at Rs 500 per month for three ads - two on each side of its canopy and one on its back.

KS Pannu said the income generated through advertisements would go to the rickshaw puller’s loan pay-back account of Rs 450 per month. The administration has tied up with Punjab National Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce for providing them loan, after paying down money of Rs 500, at the rate of 4 per cent interest. Even with the Rs50 insurance, this means that the rickshaw drivers start the month without debt, and all earnings will therefore count.

Rickshaw puller Dilbagh Singhand Baljinder Singh, who has been plying old conventional rickshaws for decades, without ever being able to buy them, was excited. He told the Tribune News Service:

“Now my dream to own a rickshaw, and a designer one at that, will be fulfilled. Until now I have had to shell out between Rs 35 to Rs 45 per day as rent, but now I just have to pay back an instalment of Rs 500 per month. After allowing for the income from the advertisement panel, I may be able to earn some extra money.” He supports a family of four.

According to the Indian Express, Amritsar's example is already leading to discussions about eco-rickshaws in other cities including Chandigarh and Ludhiana.

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