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[wtpp] Re: alt-transp Cycle rickshaws

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  • Pascal Desmond
    Below is the DRAFT of an article which was published in World Transport Policy & Practice Volume 3, Number 3, 1997. The author, Jai Sen, is an independent
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15 5:51 AM
      Below is the DRAFT of an article which was published in "World Transport
      Policy & Practice" Volume 3, Number 3, 1997. The author, Jai Sen, is an
      independent researcher working on the dynamics of the concept of housing
      rights in India. An architect and urban designer by training and first
      profession, he worked as a researcher and campaigner from 1977 to 1981 with
      'Unnayan' ['development' in the sense of self-realisation in Bengali], a
      civil organisation based in Calcutta that works in support of the struggles
      of the unintended and labouring poor to build their lives and homes. His
      main work has been in the area of housing rights and of the rights of the
      rickshaw pullers of Calcutta.

      World Transport Policy & Practice
      Eco-Logica Ltd., 53 Derwent Road, LANCASTER, LA1 3ES. U.K.
      telephone +44 1524 63175 fax +44 1524 848340
      Editor: Professor John Whitelegg [mailto:ecologic@...]
      Business Manager: Pascal Desmond [mailto:pascal@...]

      'The Left Front and the Unintended City: Is a civilised transition possible?'

      Jai Sen
      51-B Palm Avenue, Ballygunge, Calcutta 700 019
      Telephone 033/240 5698 or 0457, Fax 033/474 8172 or 7389

      Calcutta, Rickshaws, Government, Society.

      Attempts have been made to ban hand-pulled rickshaws in Calcutta in the
      past. Hand-pulled rickshaws are one of the last vestiges of feudalism and
      imperialism. The lives and livelihoods of those who pull the rickshaws are
      not normally considered because some politicians believe that "the poor
      must suffer a little for the good of the larger community".

      The recent debate in Calcutta - within the state government, the ruling
      left alliance, and the media - about the future of hand-pulled rickshaws
      and cycle rickshaws has been instructive and welcome. This is not a new
      debate but it is good to see that this time there are some prominent people
      (such as Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Home Minister) who, briefly, appeared
      unwilling to take a simple-minded approach to traffic planning and city
      "modernisation". They have confronted some of the awkward realities that
      are contained in our social existence, of which rickshaws and
      rickshaw-pulling are examples. It is good to see Ministers talking quite
      openly about such issues; and it illustrates a new openness within the
      Left, where it was most unusual to discuss such issues in public.

      Given that we like to believe that we are living in and building a
      democratic society, then this is a very important public debate - one which
      is of far greater significance that might appear to be the case at first
      sight. In collective terms, the debate implicitly involves the lives,
      livelihoods, and futures of a huge population, straddling urban and rural
      areas in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and Bangladesh who are among
      the poorest and most exploited sections of society. It is crucial also to
      recognise that the apparent standoff between Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and
      Subhas Chakraborty is, fundamentally, between more civilised and democratic
      planning and a more authoritarian ("I will clear them from the streets")
      approach. The agenda at hand is thus much more than just "rickshaws or no
      rickshaws". Indeed, precisely because rickshaws and their pullers are a
      potent symbol and reminder of a feudal past (and of a continuing and
      prevailing present), it is vital that the issue is understood not just by
      itself but as a part of the wider and continuing struggle to fight
      feudalism. Furthermore, it is important that the debate is sustained and
      disseminated widely, and that a socially just and forward-looking
      resolution is found, and that apparently "modern" but equally
      authoritarian, neo-feudal, "planning" is not permitted.

      At the time of writing, one of the more recent developments in a
      fast-developing situation, is that the two Ministers in question have
      buried the hatchet, and that Mr. Bhattacharya has apparently come round to
      agree with Mr. Chakraborty that "rickshaws must be quickly cleared from the
      city, for the good of the city"; and, it has been reported, that he
      apparently agrees that "the poor must suffer a little for the good of the
      larger community". There may be more between the lines than was reported,
      but nevertheless it has to be said: how familiar and how sad it is to read
      this - quite aside from how patently anti-Marxist this refrain is. This
      position is grotesque, especially coming as it does from a government of
      parties who claim to be of the Left. By recalling the history of the
      present situation and thus placing it in context, and in particular by
      drawing on the debate that took place in Calcutta in the early 1980s around
      a similar drive to get rid of rickshaws in the name of modernisation, and
      by pointing to some concrete and feasible alternatives, this article hopes
      to re-open the debate towards a more meaningful process of change.

      Though the debate has so far been largely focussed on the future of
      hand-pulled rickshaws in Calcutta (and only to an extent, on the future of
      the rickshaw pullers; there is a vital difference), we must also remind
      ourselves that the West Bengal State Government's proposals may be much
      wider. In what was perhaps the opening salvo, R. K. Prasannan, Transport
      Secretary, announced that the government had decided that "The city will no
      longer have hand-pulled and cycle rickshaws, pull carts, school vans and
      other cycle-vans by the end of this year ... The decision to remove all
      manual modes of transport has been finalised" (The Telegraph, August 8,
      1996). The number of people who stand to lose their livelihoods, and
      importantly also the range of services lost to the rest of Calcutta, is in
      fact far larger than simply those involved in the rickshaw trade alone. The
      hand-pulled rickshaw and the rickshaw-puller have come to symbolise this
      larger question - the future of what I call "the unintended city", the city
      of the poor. The question before us is: is a civilised and democratic
      transition possible; and is the Left Alliance, whose constituents have
      historically associated themselves with the poor, and with the struggle for
      democracy, willing to address this question?

      A drive for the removal of hawkers was announced simultaneously - or more
      accurately, what Mr. Chakraborty has described as "encroachers" ("hawkers"
      being those who move around hawking their wares, while those commonly
      called "hawkers" are usually encroachers on public land such as footpaths
      (Statesman, August 18, 1996)). After much deliberation CITU came out in
      defence of the rights of "poor hawkers" to hawk, but not what it calls
      "businessmen" (The Telegraph, October 2 ,1996). It is important to
      recognise this distinction, and that established hawkers (though part of
      the "informal sector") constitute a very different class and section from
      rickshaw pullers. Although in simple physical planning terms, their
      occupation of public space may seem to be related to road and traffic
      congestion, in economic and political terms this is very different. It is
      no accident that elaborate plans such as the commercial development of
      Vivekananda Park in south Calcutta (The Telegraph, September 27 and 28,
      1996) to "rehabilitate hawkers who will be removed" materialised within a
      month, while plans for the rehabilitation of rickshaw-pullers remained at
      the level of conjecture and "meetings". It is typical of officialdom to
      group the two questions together - under the bureaucratic rubric of "law
      and order", "traffic congestion", etc. In addition, despite his otherwise
      useful distinction in relation to hawking, Mr. Chakraborty himself seems
      quite happy to lump encroachers and rickshaw-pullers together. It is
      disappointing that no opinion on the Left in West Bengal, other than
      Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, has been voiced to make distinctions and to move
      towards clearer and more strategic thinking, planning, and action -
      something that has often been the hallmark of the Left.

      The unintended city

      Rickshaws, and rickshaw-pullers, are just one fragment of what planners,
      social scientists, and international bureaucracy tend to call "the informal
      sector", but which I prefer to term "the unintended city":
      a society that has grown within and beside the intended city and
      society (Sen, 1975).
      The existence of this "city" is neither planned nor intended, either by
      ruling sections and their planners or, in any collective or deliberate
      sense, by its own members; nor is it intended by the richer sections that
      it should disappear - for it is in their interests that "the poor" should
      always be around, to service them with cheap labour. Though the debate in
      question has taken place in and about Calcutta, this larger reality is
      equally true of all cities and towns everywhere; and increasingly so, as
      the contradictions of modern and post-modern development manifest
      themselves. For example, the increasing number of street children in urban
      areas of the South, and the increasing homelessness in cities of the North,
      are just two manifestations.

      Citizens of the unintended city are no different from the middle classes,
      in that most of them come from the hinterland of the city, but the twin
      forces of rejection and affinity - rejection in the form of discrimination,
      exclusion, and exploitation by the urban centre, and the affinity of strong
      ancestral tradition and of familiar primordial association such as language
      and caste - leads these citizens to live a reality that straddles what are
      called "urban" and "rural" areas. This has led to a continual and gradual,
      mostly unintended, evolution of a "new" society, different from either the
      conventionally or normatively "rural" or "urban", a synthesis of the
      ordinary things that this mass of ordinary people is doing over generations
      in their myriad struggles to survive and to prosper in a relentlessly
      hostile environment. This hybrid society has specific and inherent value
      especially for the poor, since it allows them to develop within their own
      capacities and potentialities, to meet the demands of evolving life both in
      the city and in their rural homes; and as a result, new, hybrid values are
      slowly being evolved which offer them flexibility and security, both of
      which are vital in an evolving situation.

      So far in history, there has been little or no genuine attempt on the part
      of the dominant society to accept the urban poor and disadvantaged as a
      part of the city, here or anywhere else: to accept them as equal and
      integral citizens; to develop also the city according to their needs as a
      society different from the "dominant urban" and where their disadvantage
      might be reduced; and to find ways of planning and decision-making in which
      they can take equal part. At best, they are tolerated, and planning is done
      for them, according to what the dominant centre thinks is best for them.
      Usually, it is quite the opposite, where "planning" means what the dominant
      centre thinks is best for itself, and where such people are not only
      exploited for their labour but their lifestyles are also frowned upon and
      their livelihoods declared illegal - and then even this "illegality" is
      then exploited. In those rare instances where things have been different
      and where change has taken place, it has usually come about as a result of
      resistance and struggle - not out of largesse.

      Rickshaws and rickshaw-pulling are a classic case in point. By the early
      1980s, there were some 50-60,000 hand-pulled rickshaws plying in Calcutta,
      but the number of licenses that were issued by the Calcutta Municipal
      Corporation (and the ceiling on licenses, under existing law) was only
      6,000. This ceiling remains the case, even today. A certain number of
      licenses were also issued at that time by surrounding municipalities such
      as Rajpur, but this still left something like 40,000 rickshaws which were
      in use at that time, that were "unlicensed". Since each vehicle provided
      employment to an average 2.2 pullers per day, this meant that nearly a lakh
      (100,000) of pullers were then being forced to work "illegally".

      The research which produced these figures, done by Unnayan, a civil
      organisation based in Calcutta, revealed an interesting background:
      * the ceiling on licenses of 6,000 had been set as far back as 1939.
      This figure has not been revised upwards since then, despite the tremendous
      growth in the city's population and the inevitable consequent tremendous
      increase in demand for services, despite official reports recommending
      increases and despite the evident reality of a huge number of "unlicensed"
      vehicles - which were nearly 90 percent of the total on the streets, by the
      early 1980s;
      * this situation was far from being one of benign neglect. The
      standard and mandatory rule for all "unlicensed" rickshaws and their
      equally unlicensed pullers, was (and remains) regular bribes to both
      Corporation officials and the police, adding up to a dirty grey economy
      running into crores (tens of millions) of rupees, each year; and
      * large numbers of these unlicensed vehicles were in fact owned by
      members of the police force (Unnayan and T. H. Thomas, February 1981). In
      this situation, it is only quite likely that many of these "unlicensed"
      vehicles on the streets were ones that had earlier been seized by the
      police, on the grounds of illegality, and were then being "recycled". So it
      was a neatly tied-up economy, where the pullers were exploited by both the
      owners of the vehicles and by the administrators of the city.

      However, this is not to suggest that it is only policemen who own fleets of
      rickshaws. Unnayan's research showed that the majority of rickshaws, both
      licensed and particularly the unlicensed, were owned in small and medium
      fleets (of between 2 and 20 vehicles) by individual owners, i.e. by "small
      owners"; and there were only a few "large owners", having fleets of
      hundreds of vehicles. Unlike the cycle rickshaw trade, where this was at
      least partly the case, very few hand pullers owned the vehicles they
      pulled, let alone fleets. In short, it was a highly exploitative and feudal
      trade right up to the early 1980s. Dominique Lapierre portrayed part of
      this feudal reality in City of Joy.

      There is little to suggest much has changed since the early 1980s - except
      in the important dimension of numbers, where both the number of vehicles
      and pullers has gone substantially down. This reduction has taken place not
      "by itself" but on account of a combination of factors since then. On the
      one hand, there has been a fairly sustained - if also sporadic - process of
      seizures of unlicensed vehicles by the police, and an apparently much
      stricter process of issuing of licenses by the Corporation, both for
      vehicles and pullers. On the other hand, the steep rise in the cost of
      living over this period that the pullers have equally faced, as well as the
      constantly rising level of pay-off that has had to be made to the police
      (because of the dropping numbers of vehicles and inflation) has meant that
      rickshaw fares have risen very sharply during this time - and that their
      usage has accordingly dropped. It is a war of attrition, with a certain
      inevitability about it Š the government's move suggests that it is finding
      the process too slow, and therefore wants to accelerate it.

      The previous round: Are there any lessons?

      The currently-proposed "drive for modernisation", and the debate that has
      taken place, is nothing new. The last time, in the early 1980s, when the
      same Left Front government introduced a ban on "unlicensed" rickshaws in
      the city - and, simultaneously, ushered in auto-rickshaws. Much publicity
      was given to constables being given special rewards for seizing unlicensed
      rickshaws; long lines of chained vehicles started appearing in front of the
      city's police stations, followed by huge stockpiles of their broken
      carcasses in dumps in the north and south of the city. Unlike this time
      round, when there has been so little opposition except for a few letters in
      the papers (and Bihar politicians Laloo Prasad Yadav and George Fernandes
      speaking out in support of Bihari pullers), the 1981 drive was opposed and
      strongly criticised by different sections of civil society in the city, and
      briefly also by the Congress party. The principal critic was Unnayan, which
      entirely by coincidence had just completed and published its detailed study
      of the hand-pulled and cycle rickshaw trades in the city. Unnayan found the
      plan to ban to be outrageous, violating the most fundamental of the
      pullers' human rights and also making no planning sense at all. On the
      basis of its findings, it argued that the banning of so-called "unlicensed"
      rickshaws in the city would on the one hand suddenly deprive the city of a
      range of important services (short-distance passenger travel, freight
      carriage in dense inner-city areas, as well as specialty services such as
      emergency transport for the aged and the ill especially among the majority
      of the city that is low-income, and safe personalised transport for school
      children). On the other hand, since no employment alternatives were
      proposed for the pullers, the drive would throw nearly a lakh of pullers
      out of work, as well as a significant further number who were employed in
      rickshaw assembly and servicing work.

      On that occasion, there was no known public opposition or debate within the
      Left front. It is in fact one of the tragedies and contradictions of the
      Left being in power in Bengal that the drive was, for instance, not opposed
      by the Calcutta Rickshaw Pullers Union, formed by the legendary unionist
      Mohammed Ali. This union had been built among the highly unorganised
      pullers during the fifties, when workers in this highly feudal trade came
      to be organised for the first time, and to command some respect from the
      bureaucracy as well as from owners of the vehicles. But in the 1980s, when
      Unnayan approached it for its views on the drive being undertaken, it found
      the union to be paralysed on the question, seemingly on account of its
      being tied to one of the ruling parties. Finding no constructive response
      to its arguments from within unions and from within the Left (and indeed,
      from one of the state's civil liberty organisations, who decided that the
      matter was "a trade union matter, not a question of human rights" - a sign
      of those times), Unnayan took its points to the public. Through booklets,
      newspaper articles, and with the help of an arresting film called "Man
      versus Man" (made by film-maker Shashi Anand based on its study), Unnayan
      was able to raise a fair debate in the city - indeed, to such an extent
      that the Chief Minister himself came out in public and said darkly that
      "Some people are misleading the public" on the issue.

      Unnayan's campaign was by no means decisive. It was only when Unnayan's
      campaign came to the notice of trade unionist George Fernandes, and the
      question was taken up by him - in part because a substantial proportion of
      the city's pullers are from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, which was then his
      constituency - that the Calcutta Rickshaw Chalak Panchayat was formed. It
      was only after the matter was taken by the new union to mass meetings of
      rickshaw pullers in Mohammed Ali Park (in central Calcutta) among other
      places, leading to gheraos of police stations and the Corporation's
      licensing office, that the 1981 drive died down.

      On its part, Unnayan went further than merely opposing the drive. It
      proposed that while the feudal practice and trade of rickshaw pulling
      should certainly be done away with, mandatory policy prerequisites had to
      * the provision of alternative employment opportunities for the
      pullers, and
      * the replacement of the most essential services that would be lost.
      To achieve this most economically, Unnayan proposed the mass introduction
      of what it called a "city rickshaw" and also transport and traffic planning
      in the city that took such transport services into account.

      The city rickshaw was not simply a fanciful idea. With the help of
      volunteer designers and engineers, Unnayan took the initiative of designing
      a suitable vehicle and building and testing some prototypes, including
      making it available to a rickshaw drivers' co-operative in Kasba for field
      testing, where it proved very popular. Basically a cycle rickshaw and just
      as easily buildable, the city rickshaw was however a radical improvement.
      Smaller, and with a tighter turning circle (essential for dense inner city
      traffic), lower (therefore far more stable), equipped with gears and
      drum-brakes for easier driving, and fitted with independent suspension for
      a far more comfortable ride for passengers, the city rickshaw could have
      been a very appropriate replacement for the hand-pulled rickshaw on both
      the policy counts listed above. The prototypes designed and tested could
      also be easily converted into an effective freight-carrying vehicle, which
      is an equally essential characteristic of a vehicle in our context.

      However, the government of West Bengal was not interested. Though many
      individuals within government departments expressed much interest,
      including in the State Planning Board and the Small Industries Department,
      none of the government bodies that Unnayan approached were willing to even
      provide the small grant that it requested for the research and development
      work that had to be done to make the idea a reality. To the contrary, in a
      previously unexpected step, but one which must have been prepared, the
      state government suddenly announced the introduction - and licensing - of
      auto-rickshaws in the city, even while the hand-pulled rickshaw drive was
      on. Indicating that Unnayan's campaign had at least had some effect, the
      Chief Minister went so far as to say in public that "The public should not
      be worried about the loss of services caused by the banning of hand-pulled
      rickshaws; the government is introducing auto-rickshaws, and they will
      carry your kiddies to school".

      The dangerous and polluted history of auto-rickshaw service in the city
      over the subsequent years have shown how ironic and weak that claim was,
      but far more significant are the facts that the Chief Minister failed
      completely at that time to address the question of his government throwing
      the poorest of toilers out of work and thereby being directly responsible
      for creating only more misery and more unemployment. Instead, the situation
      was used by the government to invite Bajaj, the manufacturers of
      auto-rickshaws, to move into the city and displace the small assemblers who
      made hand-pulled rickshaws. Just as thousands of impoverished rickshaw
      pullers were put out of work, the situation was used by the government as
      an opportunity to give heavily subsidised employment to an entirely
      different section: Hundreds of "educated-unemployed youth", almost
      certainly a convenient vote-bank, were given auto-rickshaws worth Rs
      25-30,000 each in the name of bank loans that in effect never had to be
      repaid - against the cost of a hand-pulled rickshaw of Rs 1,000. The bank
      loans were later written off. It is also not possible to avoid the fact
      that those who were subsidised in 1982-84 were Bengali, and those who were
      rendered unemployed were largely non-Bengali. This communal reality was
      only reflected in the response of the then state Minister of Transport,
      when Unnayan approached him in 1981 about the problems being created by the
      drive: "But the rickshaw pullers are only Biharis! And after all, the
      government is only seizing rickshaws in order to protect law and order".

      The situation that exists in Calcutta today, in 1996, is not very
      different. There are however two important exceptions. One, is that for a
      brief while so far at least, someone important within the government has
      spoken up and has even spoken about the contribution of the pullers to the
      city. For the moment, this voice seems to have been quietened. Since there
      were no other changes in the situation, this has happened for reasons that
      are not very clear - except that the government wanted to present a unified
      face to the public, at any cost. What this writer has tried to show is that
      it is of considerable importance - for a civilised society, and for the
      Left - that this voice be raised once again, and that it is supported
      loudly and clearly by civil society and by all democratically-minded
      political parties. (The Congress party would in fact do well to recall that
      one of the first points in its 1994 Election Manifesto, was "Replace
      hand-pulled rickshaws by driver-owned cycle rickshaws Š In the First 100
      Days" (Pioneer, March 27, 1994). The history of this point is not known.)

      The second exception, or change since the 1980s, is that following the
      first skirmish and then the peace treaty, and contrary to his earlier
      defiant stand of "NO RICKSHAWS", Mr. Chakraborty has announced that the
      state government has "begun discussions with two automobile companies,
      Bajaj Auto and Telco, to design and manufacture a smaller and simpler
      version of the auto-rickshaw, which can be handed over to the rickshaw- and
      handcart-pullers as an alternative mode of employment" (The Telegraph,
      September 24, 1996). Taken at face value, this should also be accepted as
      an advance since the 1980s. But closer examination of what Mr. Chakraborty
      said reveals that the government will also be holding "a meeting with
      representatives of nationalised banks and state co-operative banks Š very
      soon", and that "A formula will be chalked out to make money available
      (sic) to rickshaw- and handcart-pullers or any other interested unemployed
      person, he said" (The Telegraph, September 24, 1996). Aside from several
      other problems with this proposal, this is the crunch line: the process of
      supposedly giving employment alternatives to "the poor pullers" is
      evidently being used once again as an entry door for "other interested
      persons". History is only repeating itself.

      Some conclusions

      It is important to realise that the anti-rickshaw drive now being given
      shape, has not suddenly materialised. There are clearly people, and
      sections, within government who are determined to remove rickshaws,
      whatever it takes. Recently, The Guardian in Britain carried an article
      headlined "End of the road for rickshaws: Plans to modernise Calcutta will
      rob 60,000 human engines of their jobs". The article quoted Ashim Burman,
      Commissioner of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (who was credited as
      "shaking things up since taking over last year as Calcutta's city
      commissioner"), as saying: "Man pulled rickshaws have to be dispensed with
      ... They add to congestion, and they are humiliating" (The Guardian October
      5, 1995). The article also pointed out that "Mr Burman is part of a wider
      effort to reinvigorate Calcutta Š The Communist politicians who control the
      West Bengal state government and its capital Calcutta have begun to turn
      their backs on Marxist orthodoxy Š Travelling widely in an effort to
      attract foreign investment, they have vowed that Calcutta will one day
      outpace Bombay." This part of the grand plan has yet to mature.

      There was no mention of alternatives for the pullers in The Guardian
      article, just as it was not there in the state government's attempt in
      1982-84 to ban rickshaws. That this question is now in the air, thus needs
      to be considered as at least some advance, as does the forthright position
      that Mr. Bhattacharya has taken - at one point - on the contribution that
      rickshaw pullers make to the city. If the criticism is that men pulling
      other human beings is inhuman, and that the overall objective is to
      humanise society, then the question to be asked is: How can this be done?
      Can the humanisation of society really be done by executive fiats from
      above, or does it not require that the pullers themselves are a part of the
      process? That they must be involved, and that whatever education it
      requires to achieve this, must necessarily be a part of this? In formal
      terms, the Left has historically always emphasised the necessity of the
      emancipation of the oppressed, and the successes of many of the campaigns
      and struggles it has been involved with before and after independence, has
      come from this strength. But where does the Left Front government in West
      Bengal stand on this question, in this present case?

      Secondly, it is also very important that the public does not allow itself
      to be hoodwinked and that in the name of providing employment alternatives
      to "hand-rickshaw pullers and to other interested sections", that what
      happens is that vehicles are introduced again, just as in 1983, and go to
      strategically-placed "other sections" who would never have stooped to do
      something manual like pulling a rickshaw. The state government should be
      asked to categorically limit benefits of this scheme only to those who were
      previously rickshaw- or handcart-pullers, and to no one else. If the scheme
      is not workable with these people, then the scheme should be closed - not
      simply transferred to another group of people. In addition, the government
      should also be asked to keep in mind that if its scheme does not work, then
      how will the services lost be replaced, and what other alternatives is it
      offering to the disemployed pullers?

      Thirdly, while it is good to see that the government is this time talking
      of technological alternatives to the hand-pulled rickshaw, and that the
      cost of the alternatives is one of the considerations, there is much reason
      to think that an engine-driven, "cheaper auto-rickshaw" is neither feasible
      nor the required answer to the situation; and that some variation of the
      idea of a human-driven "city rickshaw" proposed by Unnayan back in 1984
      still deserves serious consideration. An engine-driven vehicle, especially
      if made by the likes of industries such as Bajaj and Telco, is unlikely to
      be made available at a cost that the existing hand-pulled rickshaw pullers
      - and not other unemployed sections - can afford to buy and repay the loan
      on. On top of this, in an already dangerously polluted city such as
      Calcutta, it is essential to keep in mind that more engine-powered vehicles
      on the streets will only add heavily to both noise and air pollution. A
      human-driven machine can, if properly organised as a scheme, overcome most
      of these disadvantages. And a machine such as the one proposed by Unnayan
      is no less dignified than an engine-driven machine.

      Fourthly, any such plan has two basic and interrelated requirements. First,
      it requires that detailed re-thinking be done in terms of traffic and
      transport planning of the city. This re-thinking must take into account
      both the kind of real transport needs that the different classes and
      sections of the city require, in the widely-varying localities that exist
      (from dense central and north Calcutta, to the more suburban areas), as
      well as the amount and kinds of road-space that is available and also the
      local availability of human labour power. Some amount of future planning,
      attempting to predict requirements and availabilities in the future, is
      also required. It also needs to be recognised that there is conflict
      between slow and fast-moving vehicles - but equally, it needs to be
      recognised that the resolution to this is by no means that slow-moving
      vehicles should be removed. In some areas, and on some roads, it is the
      movement of faster-moving vehicles which should be restricted. Zone
      separation and route segmentation (of fast- and slow-moving vehicles) are
      possible, and should be tried on an experimental basis in different areas
      until the right balance is achieved. If it can work in other cities in the
      world, there is no reason why it should not work in Calcutta. It is a
      question only of there being available the necessary political vision and

      The second requirement is that there is a need to think beyond the level of
      planning "for" people, and to move to planning "with" people. The meetings
      that have been taking place with non-governmental organisations of the
      intelligentsia is better than no meetings at all, but the government needs
      to move beyond limiting its vision to only the middle-classes - and to
      directly involve those who are bearing the brunt of the changes it is
      proposing: The labouring classes, the citizens of the unintended city.
      Recognising this so-far unintended, unrecognised world, involving its
      members in the planning of their own futures and more generally the city,
      would constitute one of the most powerful and meaningful ways to change the
      present situation, and is a prerequisite for a civilised transition from
      where we are today. Even if the sleight of hand (that seems planned and has
      the outward appearance of progress and modernisation) simply to legislate
      out the livelihoods and existence of some people, and to legislate in
      favour of others can be blocked, it is no change from a backward past.

      Finally, Calcutta has a very special responsibility in this field. It is
      most likely the very last city in the world and hopefully in history, to
      have hand-pulled rickshaws. Despite the inhumanity of man pulling man, and
      despite the feudality of the trade, the jin rikisha ("man-pulled vehicle"
      in Japanese - it was arguably first introduced there about 1869) has played
      a memorable role in the history and culture of humankind. The struggle of
      rickshaw-pullers, perhaps precisely because of the mesmerising reminder
      that it offers of the real nature of human relations in society, has
      figured widely in the literature of possibly all Asian cultures, certainly
      in all parts of India. The rickshaw, indeed, has only operated in Asia - in
      colonial Asia. It was introduced, it proliferated, and it operated as a
      reflection of a time and of societies where humans became cheaper to use as
      beasts of burden than animals. We are now, thankfully, moving past those
      times. In almost all other contexts, including within India, the rickshaw -
      and the rickshaw-puller - was simply driven out, crushed out of existence -
      which, as I argue above, is just as authoritarian as the societies from
      which they emerged. In this situation, Calcutta needs to do two things:
      one, and beyond doubt first of all, it needs to phase out its own part in
      this past in as meaningful and graceful fashion as possible - and equally,
      it needs to phase in the future in a civilised and democratic way. Two, and
      especially given its penchant for the unusual, Calcutta should seriously
      consider establishing - and taking some liberty with the original language
      - a "Museum of the Rikisha Jin and the Jin Rikisha", as a testament to the
      struggle of the rickshaw-pullers of Asia, both in the past and the future.

      Sen, J., (1975), "The Unintended City: An Essay on the City of the Poor."
      Cathedral Relief Services, Calcutta.
      Thomas, T.H. and Unnayan, (1981), "Rickshaws in Calcutta." Unnayan, Calcutta.

      We are grateful for permission to reprint this article which appeared in a
      similar form in "Economic and Political Weekly", Bombay, November 9-16,

      With very best wishes,
      Pascal Desmond
      Business Manager
      World Transport Policy & Practice
      ISSN 1352-7614.

      World Transport Policy & Practice
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