Urban planners in Europe and the US may hail rickshaws as an efficient, non-polluting way to move around, but the Indian elite has always looked down upon them. The humble rickshaw now has a reason to cheer. Fazilka's 'Ecocab' project, which will celebrate its second anniversary in June, is making planners across the country sit up and take notice.
Fazilka has four call centres, one in each part of the city, where residents can telephone to call a rickshaw home. Executives in the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System (DIMTS) want to implement this dial-in model for users of their BRT corridor buses. The Jaipur-based Kuhad Trust, which helps rickshaw-pullers own their rickshaws through a zero-interest scheme, wants to replicate the project in the Pink City, while the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board is also looking at the feasibility of adopting this model for tourists in Amritsar.
The 'Ecocab' project, put in place by the Graduates Welfare Association of Fazilka (GWAF), is now being hailed as a pioneering initiative in the country. Dr Anvita Arora, CEO of Innovative Transport Solutions, an incubatee company of IIT-Delhi, says: "At the Urban Mobility Conference organised by the Ministry of Urban Development in December 2009, the project received much appreciation from national and international delegates." Dr Arora, who is working on sustainable transport in various cities, is a visiting faculty member of the urban design department of School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi.
It was on her suggestion that Kirti Dikshit, now working as an industrial designer in a design firm at Delhi, did her master's thesis on the 'Ecocab' project as part of her M.Arch course at SPA. And 'Carbusters', the journal of the World Carfree Network, has carried a detailed article on the 'dial-a-rickshaw' facility.
Anil Sethi, president of Fazilka Municipal Council, says the project has decongested the main markets, leading to better business for traders and convenience for residents. "Our cities are getting so polluted and congested that projects like the Ecocab have become imperative. The 500-odd rickshaw pullers benefiting with an additional income means the project is a boon for as many families," he asserts.
GWAF secretary Navdeep Asija adds: "BSNL is giving us seven lines. While we will have five fixed call centres, two phones will be placed at strategic points in markets with a tea stall owner or some other small vendor."
GWAF has provided digital identity cards to the 'traction men', as Asija calls them. The cards have the entire socio-economic data of each rickshaw puller, along with his address and family profile, blood group and household income. It has also given an insurance cover of Rs 50,000 each to the rickshaw pullers, and made provision for their free medical check-up and treatment at established clinics in the city.
Says Jaspal Singh, Deputy Manager, DIMTS: "We are considering the viability of using call-in rickshaws as a feeder route for the BRT corridor. It's a people-friendly initiative, because our users face a problem coming to the bus stand from their homes."
Punjab's Principal Secretary, Tourism, Geetika Kalha has asked GWAF to prepare a feasibility report on using the model in Amritsar. "Our Tourist Information Centre can be the hub, and we can develop package tours for tourists to use dial-in rickshaws for visiting the Golden Temple, the Durgiana Temple and the Jallianwala Bagh. The model can be brilliant for congested cities like Amritsar," she says.
Harshit Kaushik, project manager for the Kuhad Trust at Jaipur, says the NGO is looking at the possibility of adopting the scheme in the Rajasthan capital.
The 'Fazilka Nano'
THE Graduates Welfare Association of Fazilka (GWAF) had asked Kirti Dikshit, a student of School of Planning and Architecture, to design a lighter rickshaw. The Fazilka Nano, as association members call it, was launched at the Fazilka Heritage Festival on April 4. It weighs 55 kg, as compared to a traditional rickshaw which weighs approximately 85 kg. Kirti has used hollow iron pipes to increase its strength and ensure greater durability. A traditional rickshaw uses much wood. Various other changes have been made keeping in mind the comfort of the rickshaw puller and the passengers. Rickshaw pullers have responded well to the new model, and more changes are being made in line with the feedback given by them. "Once we are satisfied with the prototype in all respects, we will train a local manufacturer to make them for us," says GWAF secretary Navdeep Asija.