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Miles Clock Up, Time To Rest

Miles Clock Up, Time To Rest
Swapan Nayak
Miles Clock Up, Time To Rest
West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya believes in being different. So, even as Manmohan Singh was announcing sops for the poor and marginalised on Independence Day, Buddhadeb decreed the end of livelihood for about 18,000 rickshaw-pullers in Calcutta. Hand-pulled rickshaws, a relic of the British Raj and a mode of transport that’s symbolic of the city, are inhuman and cause traffic congestion, he said. Calcutta, feels the CM, has for a long time been portrayed as a city of beggars, lepers and hand-pulled rickshaws—and it’s time this changed.

As expected, the announcement has divided the city. Many support the government’s decision, but others feel rickshaws are a non-polluting mode of transport in this over-polluted city and the decision would leave 18,000-odd ‘jobless’. Of course, the state has promised to provide alternate means of livelihood. There’s talk of training the rickshaw-pullers to drive autorickshaws run on lpg. But the rickshaw-pullers. most over 45, may probably be past the age of learning a new vocation. And government assurances, by themselves, don’t generate much optimism.

Buddhadeb has set this year-end as the deadline for the ‘banish rickshaw’ project. "Providing an alternate vocation would involve training and money and will take 4-5 months. We’ll try out a pilot project first," he said, adding that the transport department, the city police and civic bodies would start working on a rehabilitation package.

Hand-pulled rickshaws were invented by Albert Tollman, an American blacksmith. Introduced in Calcutta in early 1900 by Chinese vendors to carry goods, it graduated to become a popular mode of transport around 1915. The state tried in 1996 to ban them but backed out later in the face of opposition from Calcuttans. The rickshaws have even featured in many film classics, including Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen and Roland Joffe’s City of Joy.

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