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The Delhi High Court Wednesday termed the ban on cycle rickshaws on the city’s arterial roads “arbitrary” and stressed that non-motorised vehicles were the need of the hour in the wake of rising pollution and global warming.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Ravinder Bhatt said: “Planet earth seems to be running out of options unless unorthodox and sometimes unpopular policies are pursued. Whatever be the nuances about the technical soundness of the exact extent of global warming, the signs are self evident – erratic weather patterns, drying rivers and a depleting water table, food insecurity, retreating glaciers, drastically reducing forest cover.”

Turning down the traffic police’s submission that cycle rickshaw pullers create a nuisance on the roads, the court said: “It would be important for public authorities, particularly law enforcement agencies, to display sensitivity when exercising the coercive powers under various statutes to the vulnerable situation in which the underprivileged populations, of which the rickshaw pullers form an integral part, are placed.”

“This is a fit case where authorities should explore all options to reduce road congestion and consider all proposals from an overall or holistic perspective,” the bench said while forming a committee to explore the options available.

“Our country is vast with an ever-growing population, alarming numbers of whom continue to swell the list of the unemployed. In these circumstances, any opportunity towards gainful employment, howsoever slight, is worth exploring – it may be part-time employment or full-time, it may be seasonal or regional. If these are recognised as legitimate, the conclusion that cycle rickshaw plying is offensive to human dignity cannot be understood at all,” the bench remarked.

Terming that every person has the right to earn their living, the court said:”Prohibiting a class of impoverished persons altogether of the chance of livelihood in a category of non-dangerous commercial activity, i.e. hiring cycle rickshaws for plying cannot be supported as a reasonable restriction.”

Quashing the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s (MCD) policy of ‘owner should be plier’, the court said: “The owner-plier policy, even though valid 22 years ago, cannot be regarded as non-discriminatory and valid now. It is arbitrary.”

The court was hearing a petition by NGO Manushi and Initiative for Transportation & Development Programmes that the court’s order and the MCD’s policy of banning rickshaws from arterial roads and Chandni Chowk area in Old Delhi was arbitrary and violated the fundamental rights of rickshaw pullers.

The petition also criticised the ceiling imposed on the number of licences granted to rickshaw pullers in the city.

The bench prohibited the MCD from confiscating and crushing cycle rickshaws without licence, terming the action unjustified.

Stressing the need for non-motorised mode of transport, the court said: “The figures of registered motor vehicles are in excess of 60 lakh… As far as private commercial vehicles catering to the public are concerned, there are 76,090 auto rickshaws and 30,809 taxis on the road. Thus, there is a felt need for non-motorized road transportation, which the cycle rickshaws offer.”

The court then directed the MCD to provide parking space to cycle rickshaws as well.

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