| Pradip Kumar Sarmah. Picture by UB Photos |
Jorhat, Sept. 10: After years of toil, rickshaw-pullers in India will finally be integrated into the mainstream with Parliament about to discuss a draft bill that will take into account their security and welfare.
Assam’s Pradip Kumar Sarmah is responsible in no small measure for this. He is a key player in finalising the draft bill on the Non-motorised Vehicles and Pliers (Promotion, Regulation, Welfare and Conditions of Service) Act, 2012.
An Ashoka Fellow, Sarmah’s Rickshaw Bank concept enabled rickshaw-pullers to own their own vehicles and won him accolades and awards at the national and international levels.
The concept became a national movement in the mid-2000s.
The draft bill takes into account the security and welfare of rickshaw-pullers and others who drive non-motorised vehicles and it will also consider their contribution to the green mobility movement, Sarmah said here today.
“It took 12 sittings of the draft bill committee, which was constituted under the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation and headed by Mukut Mudgul, retired Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court, to finalise the draft,” Sarmah, who is a member of the committee, said.
Besides addressing issues of livelihood and welfare to bring the rickshaw-pullers under the ambit of the organised sector, the committee also proposed a green fund for them, said the social activist, who now resides in Noida.
“Since rickshaw and cart-pullers draw non-motorised vehicles, they save thousands of litres of fuel which would have otherwise cost the exchequer and increased carbon footprint. This has to be recognised and rewarded by the government,” Sarmah said.
The draft bill has welfare provisions like conditions of work and benefits due to them. It encourages promotion of environment-friendly employment opportunities and use of cost-efficient, non-motorised vehicles as an integral part of vehicular traffic. The bill stresses the need to provide equitable road space and to provide alternate urban designs for creating separate tracks for such vehicles on city roads.
The Rickshaw Bank concept was floated in Guwahati in 2004 and was incorporated by IIM Bangalore under their microfinance incubation programme during November-December 2005. It later drew the attention of various institutes like Harvard, MIT and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
President Pranab Mukherjee had met Sarmah on August 14 last year and discussed the unorganised labour force.
Sarmah, who is the founder and executive director of the Centre for Rural Development, Guwahati, said an MIT professor had attended the 2009 India conference at Harvard Business School, Boston, where he was a panel speaker.
“Later, the professor visited the factory that made the rickshaws designed by the IIT. He took back a whole sack full of scraps of broken down rickshaws. For four years, MIT students analysed and found out why the angles broke at the joints and other minor defects. They came and stayed here and modified the rickshaws several times,” he said.
Later, UNDP called for a study on the status of rickshaw-pullers in three states of India through an international tender.
The Centre for Rural Development conducted the study in Assam, Jharkhand and Rajasthan and found that like in Assam, 90 per cent of rickshaw-pullers did not own their rickshaws.