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Handpulled rickshaws now a past

Written by: Staff

Kolkata, Dec 4 (UNI) Handpulled rickshaws, which symbolised the city of joy for more than a century, virtually became a thing of the past today as the West Bengal Assembly passed a Bill banning the carriage from city streets.

After Calcutta Hackney Caariage (Amendment) Bill, 2006 got the approval of the House, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee promised alternative livelihood or compensation to more than 18,000 rickshaw pullers, most of them migrants.

The new legislation, however, awaits the customary nod of the Governor.

The chief minister had announced his decision to abolish handpulled rickshaws on the independence day last year describing the practice as 'shameful and inhuman'.

He, however, said the rickshaws would be phased out of the city giving proper rehabilitation to the affected labourers. There are 5,937 handpulled rikshaws in the city.

Headed by the Assembly Select Committee on the Hackney Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006 proposed to organise a section of rickshaw pullers as self help groups and engage them in collecting parking fees at 20 lots under Kolkata Municipal Corporation to earn an alternative livelihood. They have been exempted from having a Corporation license. Those aged and infirm, would be given a one time compensation of Rs. one lakh each.

Mr.Bhattacharjee said he had asked Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharjee to facilitate the process by ensuring that the self-help groups formed by the rickshaw pullers were engaged in their new job.

The Calcutta Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill was first introduced in the state Assembly on July 20, 2006 and was referred to the Select Committee on a motion moved by the Chief Minister and Minister in Charge of Home and adopted by the House the same day.

The new legislation will also put a stop to man-carried planquins as vehicles of public conveyance and is expected to ease to some extent traffic congestion, caused by slow moving vehicles.

With swanky malls, high rises and hi-tech centres sprouting in the city of 13 million population and the increasing number of expressways and flyovers making way for a swelling fleet of fast moving vehicles, handpulled rickshaws did not fit the model of progress the city was heading for leaving behind the time of militant trade unionism, political instability and a modest life style.

Handpulled rickshaws first came to the city from Hong Kong in the ninenteenth century when the city hardly had a car or a bike throwing job opportunities to hundreds of people, most of them from neighbouring Bihar, by putting in hard labour to ferry 'babus and bibis' across the city--along serpentine lanes and the main thoroughfares as well.

For all these years they had been much in demand especially for taking people through long tortuous alleys and during the monsoon when the city would be flooded incapacitating motorised vehicles to run though water.

The 'human horses' as they were known to be, the rickshaw pullers with their metal hand bells walked into the works of Rudyard Kipling and then became a part in the novels of famous writers like Dominque Lapierre and Gunter Grass.

Mayor Bikash Bhattacharjee said the Corporation was considering a move to replace the hand pulled rickshaws with cycle or motorised rickshaws. He did not, however, say whether the Government would provide the new alternative vehicles.


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