An initiative for alternative employment
02 / 2009
In India, as in many other countries, people who are uprooted from rural life where they no longer manage to survive, try to improve their situation by moving to urban areas. However, due to a lack of training and skills, they simply increase the number of people living in poverty, often in atrocious conditions. There are currently 8 million rickshaw pullers in India of whom 95 percent do not own their vehicle due to lack of funds. In India, rickshaws are modified tricycles used to transport passengers or goods. To earn a meager living, pullers are obliged to rent them on a daily basis at rates that could be considered excessive (usually controlled by a form of mafia). Out of the average daily income of 75 rupees, pullers are obliged to pay the owner 25 rupees (50 rupees is equivalent to $1 US). And as they do not have an insurance policy, they are in a vulnerable situation if an accident occurs and passengers get hurt. Generally speaking, five people live on this income.
Dr. Pradip Kumar Sarmah, Executive Director of the Centre for Rural Development and a veterinarian by profession identified this problem and tried to find a solution to help these rural people; he thought that the best way was to develop a project that allowed drivers to own their rickshaws.
The project : the Rickshaw Bank
The idea of the Rickshaw Bank was born in 2004. Following a number of trials, a system has been established since 2006 to allow self-employed workers to become independent owners of their rickshaws. In addition, the project includes many innovations:
A new rickshaw has been developed with the help of the India Institute of Technology using materials that are lighter and more aerodynamic
The new design makes it possible to install advertising, which increases revenue
Bank loans now exist to buy their rickshaw, with the help of a development NGO, following agreements with financial institutions and ministries
The loan is fully repaid within a 12 - 24 month period as pullers use a payment plan equivalent to the same amount of 25 rupees a day they used to pay previous owners
The loan of approximately 13,000 rupees for the rickshaw also covers money for a uniform, an identity card, a license and two-year insurance
Solidarity forms within the group as drivers are divided into groups of five (along the lines of loan circles in micro-finance). Every five groups (making up 25 drivers) have a garage to maintain and repair their rickshaws. This place, which is also used for families to access cooking gas, produces a sense of community and becomes a place for exchanging ideas.
More than 3000 drivers have already become owners, and there are so many requests that the Centre for Rural Development can no longer meet the demand. It is important to mention that the project received high visibility in the media, including national television and newspapers. As the project is supported by the different levels of government, and Ministers are often present at launches in new cities, public awareness of the project has increased. It is now planned to expand the project by granting franchises to other organizations throughout India.
The project is already demonstrating an impact on sustainable community development. This is true at three levels:
Social - improving the health of drivers and their families; better opportunities for children to go to school, improving law and order (less control by the mafia) and creation of a more positive working environment.
Environmental - an alternative to the use of fossil fuels (cars) and access to more environmentally friendly cooking gas.
Economic - access to ownership of a rickshaw increases income and living standards, access to financial resources, job creation for young people and opportunities for local companies to increase their sales.
The future – the Soleckshaw
A new experimental model of rickshaw, operating on an electric motor with a battery charged by solar energy is being tested in New Delhi. Launched with the participation of the Ministry of Science of India, it is hoped to use the Soleckshaw on a large scale during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
It is a well-known fact that the density of population in the cities of India is such that eco-friendly transportation must be found to move people and goods. While allowing a significant improvement in living conditions for the very poor, the Rickshaw Bank seeks to improve urban life, and with the large-scale introduction of solar-powered rickshaws, the physical demands on drivers will also be considerably improved.
English translation: Évéline Poirier
The article is available on the blog: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development.