Law · Public Policy

Controversy over E- Rickshaws

Some days ago, the city pages of Delhi newspapers were full of one topic- controversy over e-rickshaws. The Delhi High Court banned e-rickshaws because of the risk they pose to the people. The Centre govt., on the other hand, was contending against this. Not only the Bhartiya Janata Party, but Congress and AAP had taken up this issue. These people have met Lt. Governor of Delhi and had organized rallies to evince their support for e-rickshaw pullers. Reason- no one wants to lose this golden opportunity to woo voters in context of the upcoming State elections in Delhi. But, what is the controversy all about?

Introduced in 2010 in Delhi by Municipal Corporation of Delhi, today the number of e-rickshaws is above 1,00,000 in Delhi alone.[1] Having the power engines of above 650 watts, they were unregistered with the Transport sector although the limit for non motorized vehicles is power engine of 250 watts travelling at a speed of less than 25 km per hour.[2] They were not covered under Motor Vehicles Act. They were not insured thus claims against e-rickshaw pullers for negligence cases largely went unheard.

On 24 April, 2014 the Ministry of Road and Transport declared E-rickshaws illegal. The Traffic police stared impounding them after this notification which created a huge furor. Every political party began to woo the voters. The Minister of Road and Transport, Nitin Gadkari, was the chief guest of a rally which was organized to show support for e-rickshaw pullers. He announced that the e-rickshaws were not illegal. They would have to observe some regulations but they could ply legally without obtaining the license for same. He also announced that they would be covered under Deen Dayal E-rickshaws Yojana under which e- rickshaw pullers would have access to credit at just 3% rate of interest.[3]

The controversy was already going on when it caught a spark after a toddler accidentally fell to it’s death in Trilokpuri in Delhi. The e-rickshaw hit a woman and due to the jerk, the small baby slipped out of her hand and fell into the hot boiling pan and died due to severe burn injuries. This incident got much attention. Afterwards PILs were filed in Delhi High Court asking the Court to decide over the unregulated menace plying in the State. The court took notice of the fact that their power engine capacity is much higher than the prescribed limit and they carry more passengers at a higher speed than prescribed thus, jeopardizing passengers’ safety. They are not covered under the MV Act.

Considering that the situation just couldn’t be let off without any policy changes,  it put a ban on e-rickshaws and asked the Centre to come up with a solution. The court found it necessary as MV Act is a great savior of the victims of traffic accidents and the e-rickshaw pullers do not come under this Act.

MV Act prescribes for compulsory insurance of the vehicles and if the insured vehicles cause any accident, an interim claim is provided to the victim without going into the issue of ascertaining the fault of the puller. This is known as No-fault liability. Compensation of Rs. 50,000 is made to the family members of the victim in case he dies, and Rs.25,000 if the victim is grievously injured.[4] This compensation is made even if the accused is not present. After claiming the interim compensation, the victim can go for full fledged compensation through the ordinary case of negligence. The main aim behind this provision is to provide immediate relief to the victim, who may be waging a war between life and death, rather than spending years on deciding the guilt.

It is not just the Trilokpuri accident but there are several cases of accidents caused by e-rickshaws. E- rickshaws have already crowded the Delhi Street and it becomes pertinent to regulate them.

The Centre thus came up with guidelines for E-rickshaws. Main guidelines include compulsory license for these vehicles and putting them in compliance with MV Act provisions. They have to run at maximum speed of 25 km per hour and can carry only 4 persons and 50 kg of load at a time. It also provides that there will be triennial registration of these rickshaws and it will be done only for those pullers who have valid license. The compensation to the victims will be given as provided in MV Act.[5]

The govt. said it will take around 2 months in getting these things done and meanwhile, the ban should be lifted as it is putting thousands of people to unemployment. However, the court refused to lift the ban till the rickshaw pullers have valid license, registration certificates and insurance cover in their hands so that they can  be covered under MV act. The court ruled that it can’t suspend the MV Act by lifting the ban.[6]

The court was in big dilemma. It had to decide between the safety of people and unemployment of rickshaw pullers. The court finally decided in favor of people because the law demanded so. The Court is not against e-rickshaw pullers but it wants to solve the problem with e-rickshaws. Now, it is the task of the govt. to provide valid licenses, registration certificates and insurance cover to the rickshaw pullers as soon as possible to save both people and the e-rickshaw pullers.

About the Author

Kanchan Singla

Kanchan is a second year law student at National Law University, Delhi. Out of the subjects that she has studied till now, she takes interests in criminal Law. Her hobbies include painting, watching movies, listening to songs etc.

Endnotes 

[1] Vibhuti Agarwal, A Nightmare Death Introduces Controversy over Delhi’s Electric Rickshaws, July 31, 2014, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL- INDIA, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/07/31/a-nightmare-death-renews-controversy-over-delhis-electric-rickshaws/  last accessed on 17 August, 2014.

[2] Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, Delhi Debate over E-rickshaws Drives Congress, AAP  and BJP to the Same Side, June 18, 2014, SCROLL.IN, http://scroll.in/article/667418/Delhi-debate-over-e-rickshaws-drives-Congress,-AAP-and-BJP-to-the-same-side  lat accessed on 17 august, 2014.

[3] Id.

[4] Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 S. 140.

[5] Govt. submits draft guidelines in Court   over E- rickshaws, August 8, 2014, THE TIMES OF INDIA, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Govt-submits-draft-guidelines-in-court-on-e-rickshaw-plying/articleshow/39876402.cms  last accessed on 17 August  2014.

[6] Nirnimesh Kumar, E-rickshaws Finally Get the Legal Stamp, August 9, 2014, THE HINDU, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-newdelhi/erickshaws-finally-get-the-legal-stamp/article6297639.ece  last accessed on 17 august, 2014.

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