Return of E-rickshaws on road after compromising on safety

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[mks_dropcap style=”rounded” size=”40″ bg_color=”#dd9933″ txt_color=”#000000″]E[/mks_dropcap]-rickshaws and e-carts will now be ply on roads legally as the Cabinet approved the ordinance on January 7, 2015. This ordinance ought to treat these two as motor vehicles under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The passage of this ordinance was not encouraged by all. Several MPs raised concern over the issue of passenger safety and cheap parts purchased from China. The government took the ordinance route under Article 123 of the Constitution of India for carrying out the proposed amendments in the line of Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2014 as the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill was not able to be passed in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament.

By the virtue of this ordinance, e-rickshaw drivers would not have to wait for an entire year to get a license to drive their battery-operated vehicles. If e-rickshaw drivers pass the driving test, they will be issued learner’s licenses. After 30 days of getting the learner’s license they will get general Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) licenses, mandatory for driving transport vehicles. Till now, despite the limited speed and power of e-rickshaws, the operators were equated with drivers of commercial transport vehicles and had to wait for a year to get a LMV license.

Background:

The ministry’s move to legalize e-rickshaws came after the ban on plying of the vehicles in Delhi on the grounds that they were a traffic and safety hazard by the Delhi High Court.

In July, a three year old boy, lost his life due to falling into a pot of boiling sugar syrup when a three-wheeler hit his mother and threw her off-balance outside a street-side sweet shop in east Delhi. Due to this incident, Delhi high court banned e-rickshaws with immediate effect. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court which sought a regulatory mechanism for e-rickshaw. According to the PIL the e-rickshaws were running amok on the city streets and hence a regulatory mechanism was required. The Petitioner alleged that the inaction on the part of authorities was “wholly illegal, arbitrary, mala fide and against the principles of natural justice”. Because of this uncontrolled plying of e-rickshaws, 29 accidents occurred in which lives of 2 passengers were lost. Till June, 137 cases were registered against e-rickshaw drivers for rash and negligent driving. It was alleged that unregulated operation of the battery-operated vehicles tends to cause traffic problems and were causing nuisance on the roads.

Government rules (India)

In India, the government rules have lead to controversies in operation of e-rickshaws. There have been several bans over time, but even after that, e-rickshaws kept on running in the capital. This forced the government to form some new rules.

According to the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, motor vehicles below the range of 250 watts and speed up to 25 km per hour are exempted but e-rickshaws are still sold above one horse power without being subjected subjecting to any test under the rules.

These e-rickshaws run by four 12 volts batteries with power output of 650 to 850 watt. E-rickshaws are designed to ferry only four people, but it has been observed that the drivers carry almost 8 passengers, endangering their lives.

Political Controversy:

E-rickshaws also created a political controversy following reports that Purti Green Technologies Private Limited (PGTL), one of the seven companies which were granted license by state-run Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to produce e-rickshaws, had Mr. Rajesh Totade as a director with 50% stake. Mr. Rajesh is the brother-in-law of Nitin Gadkari who holds the transportation portfolio. PGTL was formed under the Purti Group. Gadkari resigned as the chairman of Purti Group in 2011.

New scheme notified for return of e-rickshaw

The Delhi Government’s Transport Department, through ‘E-rickshaw Sewa Scheme’ notified a new set of rules governing the operation of e-rickshaws. This set the stage for the return of the battery-operated vehicles. According to the department, e-rickshaws would now be registered as transport vehicles under the registration series ‘DL-1ER’ and would be granted contract carriage permits without fare meters. The drivers strictly need to possess a valid license to drive the vehicle besides a public service badge.

“The applicant should not own any other e-rickshaw or transport vehicle with a permit. Such vehicles must also be equipped with a first-aid box and fire extinguisher,” rules under the new scheme state in addition to requirements such as the model of e-rickshaw being duly approved in accordance with provisions of section 126 of Motor Vehicle (MV) Act, 1988.

 

The address and telephone number of the permit holder are required to be painted on the left side of the vehicle. The scheme also stipulates that e-rickshaws should have a seating capacity of four persons, excluding the driver, with maximum luggage weight of 40 kg while e-carts can transport goods weighing up to 310 kg, a yellow colour reflective strip on its rear side. The prescribed dimensions are: length- 2.8 meters, height- 1.8 meters, width- 1 meter.

The e-rickshaw future

Legal framework essential for electric three-wheelers

The notification fails to specify the tests which will be carried out on the e-rickshaws. The government’s decision to legalize e-rickshaws has been taken in a hustle, thus undermining the safety of commuters. The basic objective and spirit of the Motor vehicles Act are bypassed in order to honour the commitment of the Union Road Transport minister to the e-rickshaw lobby. Important issues like the stability of the vehicle or whether the vehicle has enough power to drive up an incline are neglected. Such omissions endanger the lives of road users and commuters. The basic regulatory framework should be put in place. According to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, no vehicle is allowed to ply on Indian roads without taking a third-party insurance cover. This cover protects the vehicle’s owner from liability arising from accidents involving the vehicle.

E-rickshaws were started with good intentions just before the commonwealth games to replace the rickety rickshaws with the e-rickshaw. Several futuristic elements were instilled. Some of the ideas were like the driver would be given training by private companies and the e-eickshaw would be made by recyclable material. But unfortunately none of this happened because of the unwillingness of the organizations to register such kind of transportation vehicles. Neither the carriage department nor Delhi Transport department agreed to register these e-rickshaws.

Conclusion

A coin has two sides. Properly regulated, they can be a boon. Government should take a holistic view of the safety standards and implement them without delay.

It should not be forgotten that with the one lakh e-rickshaws, there will be four lakh people travelling. The safety of these people and the safety of the people who are on the roads, should not be compromised.

This new license rule is easier for the drivers, but the key question is whether safety standards are being compromised. Whether illiterates can be trusted with a license are the questions that need to be answered.

It serves as a substitute for manual pulling rickshaws and is a way of livelihood for many poor families but on the other side, unregulated operation and reckless driving give rise to several safety issues.

Any further assembly or production of e-rickshaws should be strictly prohibited till a regulatory mechanism is put in place. The vehicles are putting passengers at risk since the latter cannot claim insurance in case of an accident.

We hope that this entire plan is well implemented without compromising safety and create a new source of livelihood for the poor masses.

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