Kolkata’s hand-pulled rickshaws, considered by many as colonial relics and banned by the previous Left Front government for being inhuman, might get a new lease of life with the civic body mulling the issue of photo identity cards to the 6,000-odd pullers.
“We are planning to issue the cards. Probably by January we may see the rickshaw pullers getting photo identity cards,” city Mayor Sovon Chatterjee told .
The move has been welcomed by many. But there are some who believe the step is regressive and the pullers instead should be rehabilitated in some other jobs.
Expressing happiness, All Bengal Rickshaw Union (ABRU) president Mukhtar Ali said: “It is a welcome move. Since the ban was announced we have been living in uncertainty. Although the court has stayed the ban, our licences were not renewed.”
The fate of the hand-rickshaws was sealed by the erstwhile Left Front regime that banned the “colonial relics” Aug 15, 2005, after terming them inhuman and degrading.
Ali said: “If we are given the card, we will get a legal status and perhaps our licences too will be renewed. We had submitted a memorandum of demands to Didi (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) earlier. Perhaps it is a result of that,” he added.
Social activist Anuradha Talwar also welcomed the move though she said the benefit would go only to those who are registered by the various unions while a large chunk of the pullers were unregistered.
“It is not known if the unregistered pullers will be handed over the cards. Of 25,000 odd pullers, only about 6,000 are recognised by the unions and are registered. So if the benefit doesn’t reach all, it will be an injustice,” she said.
Calcutta Samaritans, an NGO working for the cause of the rickshaw pullers, vetted the move but said the government needs to focus on the rickshaw pullers’ rehabilitation.
“The identity cards are not a surety that their licences will be renewed or they will not be harassed by the police,” said Reshmi Ganguly of the NGO.
“As promised by the government, they must look into rehabilitating them. The rickshaws can also be modified and made a tourist attraction,” she added.
The Calcutta Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006, heralded the departure of the rickshaws from the city amid shrill calls of disapproval and remonstration.
Though the bill has been challenged and the Calcutta High Court has stayed the legislation, the authorities have refused to renew the licences of the rickshaw pullers.
Acclaimed author Sirshendu Mukherjee termed the step ‘regressive’ and said: “The rickshaws should be completely banned.”
“It is real pity to see a man carrying another barefooted. It is inhuman and barbaric. The government must provide them some other livelihood,” he said.
The word rickshaw comes from the Japanese word ‘jinrikisha’, which means human-powered vehicle. Though the Japanese are credited with inventing the vehicle, history has it that Chinese merchants in Kolkata launched these rickshaws in the late 19th century, mainly to carry goods.
Later, the British rulers made them a cheap mode of transport, eventually turning them into a symbol of the city.