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Kolkata to miss charm of 18,000 hand-pulled rickshaws

Written by: Staff
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Kolkata, Aug 25 (UNI) The barefoot rickshaw pullers, whose wiry bodies glisten with perspiration as they haul their human loads and earn around Rs 100 a day, may soon be a thing of yore.

But the West Bengal government's move to ban handpulled rickshaws in the city on ''humaritarian grounds'' would leave them jobless.

With all political parties voicing their discontent about the decision of the state government, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had decided to design a rehabilitation package for the rickshaw pullers after the ban comes into effect.

The state government had formed a nine-member all-party Select Committee in the Assembly, which was chalking out measures to help the government identify an alternative package.

Select Committee member Trinamool Congress MLA Partha Chatterjee told UNI today that ''The state government is looking at two alternatives--a rehabilitation package or alternative livelihood.'' ''Certain things must be worked out like if monetary benefits are to be given, what amount should be allocated, the kind of alternative livelihood which can be offered and whether the rickshaw pullers have that adequate skill to take up a new profession,'' he said.

Referring to Calcutta-Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006, Mr Bhattacharjee had recently said in the Assembly that the practice of hand-pulled rickshaws should not be allowed on humanitarian grounds.

The Chief Minister said this was to eradicate the inhuman practice of hand-drawn rickshaws as public conveyance and to ease traffic congestion caused by such slow moving vehicles.

Mr Chatterjee said the government should not hurry and urged the Chief Minister to initiate fresh talks with the rickshawpullers' unions.

The Trinamool Congress leader said the state government was planning to phase out rickshaws when the city was totally dependent on this mode of transport for conveyance after large parts of Kolkata remained waterlogged during rains.

Unofficial figures said there were about 18,000 rickshaw pullers in the city.

A recent study by a non-governmental organisation, ActionAid India, put the number of hand-rickshaw pullers at 18,000 with more than 1,800 joining the pool every year.

Many Kolkatans are uncertain whether they would be able to move around the city's old lanes without the hand-pulled rickshaws - particularly during the monsoon.

''When we have to wade in chest-deep water during rains, no other transport works but you can still find the hand-pulled rickshaws taking people from one place to another,'' said Trina Roy, a housewife in north Calcutta.

Chinese traders introduced hand rickshaws to Calcutta more than a century ago, mostly to carry goods. In 1919, the British government officially adopted the rickshaws as a means of public transport.

Bicycle and motor-powered rickshaws remain in use in several Asian countries, and a few hand-pulled rickshaws are maintained for tourists in cities from Hong Kong to Honolulu -- where blond surfers can be seen pulling Japanese visitors.

But hand-pulled rickshaws have been banned in China since the communists came to power in 1949, and Calcutta is the last place where they remain in general use.

UNI JYN SJC MSJ KN1406

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