Arvind Chhabra July 30, 2009
At just 11 km from the Indo-Pakistan border, Fazilka has always been a bit of a frontier town between warring neighbours. But the residents of this Punjab town don't mind this geopolitical misfortune though they feel let down by politicians who they accuse of ignoring their needs.But now the town is in the news for some positive developments after a group of IITians, the Graduates Welfare Association Fazilka (GWAF), initiated two unique projects in town—a dial-a-rickshaw service and a car-free zone last year. With these initiatives, Fazilka is perhaps the only Indian town with such simple yet effective schemes.
The rickshaws are called Ecocabs and arrive at residents' doorsteps through a phone call. The city has been divided into five zones and each has a different phone number. "We didn't want the rickshaws called poor man's transport, therefore the name Ecocabs," explains Navdeep Asija, an IIT-Delhi graduate.
"We knew that women and the elderly would wait for their kin at home to get picked up. Thus a demand existed. It was just that we had to organise this plan better," says Asija.
Initially, the scheme got a lukewarm response, but picked up when residents understood the utility. "I detested walking in the sun to find a rickshaw. Now it is so convenient," says a much-relieved Veena, a resident.
It's not just residents, even the rickshaw-pullers have benefited. "Each of the 450 rickshaw-pullers has an identity card, an insurance policy worth Rs 50,000 and gets regular medical checkups," says Ashok Kumar, the secretary of the rickshaw association. Their earnings have gone up as the rates have been fixed.
GWAF'S other project—making the market a no-car zone—saves fuel and has decongested the market. This too did not come up without initial resistance. Fearing loss of business, shopkeepers were sure the scheme would fail, but eight months later the authorities are thinking of expanding the no-car zone.
Recalls Bhupinder Singh, a retired IIT-Roorkee professor: "This idea came from the Fazilka Heritage Festival where certain areas were barred for cars and it was a hit with all." Now, GWAF wants Fazilka residents to show more initiative. It may just show a new way to the rest of the country.