we see some real light at the end of a very dark tunnel and have some
really good news to share with Manushi friends.
On April 2nd 2012 Manushi won a major victory in a long drawn
battle to dismantle the corruption friendly License Quota Raid Raj for rickshaw
owners and pullers. On this date the Supreme Court of India dismissed the plea
of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi
challenging the historic judgment of the Delhi High Court of February 10, 2010
scrapping the lawless cycle rickshaw policy and regulations on the ground that
it is discriminatory, violates due process and is therefore unconstitutional.
had reason to celebrate this High court Order of 10 February 2010, but avoided
doing so because we knew that until the appeal filed against it in the Supreme
Court was dealt with, it would be premature to celebrate. Had the Supreme Court
yielded to the arguments put forward by the Delhi Government, the Delhi Police
and the Municipal Corporation, it would have meant going back to square one.
bench headed by Supreme Court Justice G S Singhvi dismissed the plea of the
civic body that restrictive quotas for cycle rickshaws were necessary in order
to reduce road congestion. MCD had pleaded that it should continue to have the
right to confiscate unlicensed rickshaws and crush them into junk. While
dismissing the Special Leave Petition, Justice Singhvi asked the government
counsel: "Do you dare confiscate and junk cars, the way you do with
rickshaws? Do you even dare confiscate and destroy cars of those owners who
indulge in drunken driving and mow down people? We know your mindset and how
you treat the poor."
is noteworthy that the constitutional bench of the High Court had actually
overruled an earlier order of the Supreme Court which had legitimized
confiscation and junking of rickshaws. (Hemraj vs. MCD case W.P. (C)
3419/1999.) This in itself is rare. And yet, the Supreme Court bench headed by
Justice Singhvi ruled that they did not find any infirmity in the High Court
order and no merit in the MCD petition challenging that order.
from declaring the existing rickshaw policy unconstitutional, Justice Shah took
a very astute decision by directing the Delhi Government to
constitute a Task Force to evolve a more rational policy that treats Non
Motorized Vehicles (NMVs) as an integral part of the public transport system
instead of pursuing hostile policies aimed at eliminating NMVs. (For
the full text of the High
Court order click here). This meant that the Delhi government can not escape
responsibility for creating a new law and instituting a more sensible policy
In 2001-2002, Manushi had calculated that cycle rickshaw owners
and pullers of Delhi lose at least Rs 3600 million a year on account of the
devious licensing regime that trapped virtually every rickshaw owner and puller
in a web of illegality. Despite regular bribes to the police and municipal
staff, rickshaw owners suffered huge losses due to routine confiscation and
destruction of their vehicles by the municipality.
our High Court petition we had demanded that the cycle rickshaw sector be:
- Treated as an integral part of
the public transport system and recognize it as a legitimate trade, and
demanded that the pullers be considered full citizens with all the rights
and status of workers in a legitimate occupation.
- Provided year round open
registration as opposed to restrictive licensing.
- Freed from discriminatory laws
such as the "Owner must be Puller" requirement.
- Freed from arbitrary quotas on
the number of rickshaws that can ply in the city.
- Freed from the threat of
confiscation and destruction of the vehicle under the guise of
decongesting the City.
- Provided separate tracks, as
part of giving due space to all forms of non motorized vehicles;
- Brought under fee based
regulation of numbers rather than arbitrary bureaucratic quotas.
- Provided affordable space for
repair yards, night parking lots and stands for halts between commutes.
- Provided assistance to upgrade
rickshaw technology so that rickshaw pulling involves less physical
the last few decades, rickshaw technology has actually deteriorated because the
ever looming threat of confiscation discouraged rickshaw owners from investing
in improving rickshaw technology.
Even though our PIL focused
on the cycle rickshaw sector in Delhi, the rules
and regulations that MANUSHI is endeavoring to reform are not very different in
other cities of India
or for other occupational groups working in the informal economy.-such as
street vendors. Therefore, it is bound to have a ripple effect for rickshaw
pullers in other cities as well and also hopefully for street vendors. It
may strengthen our petition which we intend to file in the Supreme Court for
review and reconsideration of certain harmful orders of the Supreme Court with
regard to street vendors.
Immediate gains from the High Court Order, now upheld also by the
Supreme Court of India:
1) End to lawless confiscation of rickshaws: Municipal
inspectors or police cannot anymore use the authority of law to forcefully
impound thousands of cycle rickshaws every month, which they were doing for
decades for offences ranging from
- Plying without a puller or owner
- Plying in "No entry
Zones" which had been fixed irrationally to include 90% of all city
- Causing road congestion;
- Parking on road side between
It took a minimum fine of Rs 325 plus Rs 100 per day
as store charges for a rickshaw to be released after being confiscated on
mostly imaginary offences. In addition, the owner had to pay a minimum of Rs
100 for getting legal papers made for release of the vehicle. On top of it, MCD
employees asked for speed money. At an average, it took Rs 600-800 to get a
vehicle released. This amounts to nearly half the cost of a second hand vehicle
or 1/6th the cost of a new vehicle. For trolley rickshaws
carrying goods, the bribe amount demanded could range from Rs 2000 to Rs 5000
depending on the goods being carried by the puller. The higher the value of
goods, the higher the demanded bribe. We submitted several video recordings of
and affidavits from rickshaw owners/ pullers describing the harassment and the
amount paid in bribes. Those who could not pay the demanded sums ended up
losing the vehicle.
2. No more crushing of confiscated rickshaws by the
municipal authorities and selling them as junk. Till the Supreme
Court endorsed the High Court order of 2010, MCD inspectors had the power of
law behind them when they crushed thousands of rickshaws after arbitrarily
confiscating them on the most absurd charges.
3. No more arbitrary quotas and caps on the number of
cycle rickshaws: Earlier the Municipal Corporation had a policy of putting
an arbitrary cap on the number of licenses to be issued to cycle rickshaws. It
began with a quota of 600 in 1960's. It was upped to 20,000 in 1976 and
50,000 in 1993. In 1997 it was raised to 99,000 and then whimsically
reduced to 52,000 in 2007. However, as per the submissions made by the
Municipal Corporation in the High Court, there are at least 600,000 to 700,000
rickshaws plying in Delhi.
But, due to several devious regulations even the 52,000 supposedly licensed
rickshaws had been trapped in a complex web of illegality which rendered
literally every single rickshaw liable to confiscation and destruction as
4. No more harassment or confiscation of the
vehicle if the rickshaw puller is not the owner of the vehicle: The
Cycle Rickshaw Bye-Laws of 1960 mandated that no one could ply a rickshaw
without being its owner. And one needed two licenses to ply a rickshaw-a
pullers' license as well as ownership license. Failure to procure either one of
the two licenses invited confiscation and destruction of the vehicle. It
was illegal to rent a rickshaw - a "crime" punishable with
confiscation and destruction of the vehicle. The High Court agreed with
our submission that since it is not illegal to own a fleet of airplanes, trucks,
buses and taxis, why should owning more than one rickshaw be treated as a legal
offence punishable with confiscation and destruction of the vehicle? The High
Court also endorsed our plea that since renting or leasing out a taxi airplane
or a bus is not illegal, it is patently discriminatory to treat renting out a
rickshaw as an offence. A person who owns an airplane is not required to
fly it himself or else risk confiscation. Why then should a rickshaw
owner be denied the freedom to lease out his vehicle on hire?
patently absurd restriction has been justified using a very socialist sounding
rhetoric: "land to the tiller, rickshaw only to the puller."
officials piously claimed that this restriction was meant to protect the
hapless rickshaw puller from the greed of the owners whom they defamed as
rickshaw mafia. But in actual fact, the risk of confiscation became the
biggest disincentive to owning a rickshaw. Similarly, the restriction on
renting or lending one's rickshaw to another person meant a person had to be
permanently based in Delhi
and have arrangements for safe keeping of rickshaws at night. Since most
pullers leave their families back in the village, it is completely impractical
for them to own a rickshaw if they are not allowed to let even a blood relative
ply the rickshaw when they go to visit their village based families.
Video interviews of pullers explaining why it is not viable for pullers to own their own rickshaw. Click here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vScTHccy02s&feature=youtu.be
In fact, MCD came down heavily on rickshaw pullers who dared to buy their own vehicles. To begin with, pullers are not given ownership licenses unless they bring high sifarish. To quote Chander Singh Mehrat, "it is easier to get an MLA or MP ticket for fighting elecetions but much harder for a puller to get license to own and ply a rickshaw.
This is because MCD employees find it much easier to collect bribes
from fleet owners who own multiple vehicles since they have to have
fixed rickshaw yards. That makes it easy for them to collect monthly
hafta per vehicle. In addition, they get winded and dined when they go
to collect dues. If they gave licenses to individual pullers, it would
be much harder for the bribe collecting mafia to keep track of lakhs of
individual pullers who are constantly moving and most do not even have
a regular address.Thus in the interest of efficiency in bribe
collection,the rare puller who dared own a rickshaw became special
target of attack in order to drive home a lesson to all others not to
upset the carefully crafted system for hafta collection. Deepak Suri's
case demsonstrates this poignantly. He is one of the very few owner
puller of a passenger rickshaw. I met him, per chance outside the MCD
yard in 2003 while video recroding the outcome of a typical
confiscation drive. He he had come with a bottle of petrol to burn
himself to death to protest against the confiscation of his second hand
rickshaw which he purchased with his life time saving of Rs 1200.
Seeing his desperation I pleaded with MCD employees to release his
rickshaw. Since they refused and I realized he might actually char
himself to death in sheer desperation, I broke open the lock and
released his rickshaw. For that 'offence" MCD employees filed a case
against me for "theft of government property." However, they did not
dare pursue the case since the entire episode was video recorded.
5. No more restrictions on the number of
rickshaws one can own: Cycle Rickshaw bye Laws of 1960 also made it a
crime to own more than one rickshaw. Only widows and handicapped
persons were allowed to own up to 5 rickshaws. The ‘offense" of owning
more than one rickshaw was punishable with confiscation and destruction of the
vehicle. The special quota of 5 rickshaw licenses for widows and handicapped
persons was perforce misused for creating benami rickshaw owners since hardly
any widow or handicapped person is likely to survive in this trade given the
high risks involved in it. Most rickshaw pullers prefer to hire a rickshaw
because as seasonal migrants they stay in the city for limited periods. Most do
not have the capital to invest in purchasing a new or a second hand vehicle. They
find it far more convenient to pay a daily rent so that they can leave for
their villages as and when necessary. 99% of rickshaws in the city are owned by
entrepreneurs who won small or big fleets-ranging from 5 to 500 rickshaws. But
their very existence was illegal. Therefore, they had to pay the demanded
monthly bribes, pay offs for getting benami licenses and suffer losses due to
routine confiscation drives which drove many of the small fleet owners out of
High Court accepted our plea that since no law made it illegal to own
multiple cars, trucks, airplanes it is patently illogical and unjust to deny a
person the right to own multiple rickshaws and treat him as a criminal, if a
man who started his life as a puller or rickshaw mechanic uses his
entrepreneurial skills to become a small or big fleet owner. Interestingly, big fleet owners are least happy with the order because they have lost the monopoly of the trade. End to confiscation drives has encouraged numerous pullers based in Delhi to buy their own rickshaw. It has also encouraged new entrants into the trade who feel emboldened to start small fleets of 5-10 rickshaws. Earlier owner pullers and small fleet owners were specially targeted during confiscation drives.
6. No more groveling and bribing to get a license
for plying or owning a rickshaw: The High Court has endorsed MANUSHI'S
submission that the restrictive licensing regime should be replaced with
"Registration on Demand". Earlier the municipal
corporation could deny a person a license to own and ply a rickshaw without
offering any reason whatsoever. Not surprisingly most rickshaws ended up
plying "illegally" and thereby risked confiscation. This
enabled vast extortion rackets to flourish at the cost of rickshaw pullers and
owners which made them vulnerable to blackmail and human rights abuses.
7. Registration on Demand with simple procedures: Since municipal officials
will now be required to provide registration to both rickshaw pullers and
owners within a specified time frame of two days, it will strike a deathblow to
the extortion industry supported by the policy of restrictive licensing
followed till now.
8. Minimal requirements for registration:
The High Court accepted Manushi's plea that requiring residence proof for Delhi, health certificate
and other such requirements should not be necessary for those applying for a
rickshaw puller license, especially considering most pullers are seasonal
migrants without regular housing. Most of them are too poor to afford
even a jhuggi in a slum. Most sleep on pavements or in rickshaw yards.
Therefore, denying a poor man the right to earn his living by rickshaw pulling
if he failed to provide residence proof amounts to adding insult to injury. The MCD tried to sneak in the old restrictive clauses in the new
application forms. But Manushi caught the mischief in time and was able to
persuade the High Court to halt the MCD from imposing unrealistic conditions.
9. "Equitable" road space to be provided for plying eco-friendly and cost friendly rickshaws that neither produce air nor noise
pollution. As of now, the police has declared 90% of city roads as no entry
zones for rickshaws. This does not stop them from plying because there is an
active demand for their services even in areas barred to rickshaws. All it
means is that the Traffic Policemen can extort money from the puller and also
give him danda treatment. This is in clear violation of the Delhi Master Plan
which mandates NMV tracks in most parts of the city, including on arterial
10. Adequate space to be earmarked for rickshaw day
stands, night parking and repair yards: As things stand, while huge
tracts of land are provided for car parking, there is no legal stand or parking
lot for cycle rickshaws. Rickshaw fleet owners manage their big or small
rickshaw fleets from their makeshift stands, which they have made by occupying
wasted pieces of public land and pavements, with very little protection from the
elements. These spots are used for servicing and repairing rickshaws as well as
parking the vehicles at night. A large proportion of rickshaw pullers sleep at
these stands because as seasonal migrants they cannot afford to pay the prevalent
high rents for living space even in Delhi's
slums. This "unauthorized" use of public space makes the fleet owners additionally vulnerable
to extortion. The amount of monthly payments that they have to cough up to the
police and municipality depends on the number of rickshaws they own and the
amount of public space they occupy. Given the exorbitant land prices in Delhi, it is impractical
to expect them to operate their trade from a personally owned piece of land as
this would make their trade altogether unviable.
Even after paying bribes, they do not have any
security. The threat of eviction from these roadside spaces forever hangs like
a sword on their heads.
In 1993, the Rajdhani Cycle Rickshaw
Operators Union had filed a petition in the Delhi High Court to demand that the MCD
should be directed to allocate rickshaw stands or halting points. The Court
directed that 234 stands be allocated for the then sanctioned quota of 20,000
rickshaws in Delhi.
But these orders were never implemented. In 1998, the Rickshaw Operators Union
filed yet another petition demanding implementation of the Court orders as well
as increase in the number of stands to at least 900, since the sanctioned quota
for rickshaws was enhanced to 99,000 that year. Even this number is highly
inadequate since by MCD's own admission in court, the number of rickshaws plying
in Delhi is believed to be 600, 000 counting those used for carrying passengers
as well as those that ferry goods or are used for garbage collection.
Even with a favourable court order in our hand,
we are finding that the battle to get authorized rickshaw stands is going to be
even tougher than getting NMV tracks even though this has the potential for enhancing municipal revenues. For example, MCD could charge Rs 100 per rickshaw per month for night parking. This in itself would increase its monthly by 6 crores.
upholding the High Court judgment, the Supreme Court has stamped its approval
on ending the exploitative License Quota Raid Raj for the cycle rickshaw sector.
It has the potential to free the hapless pullers and owners of NMVs from the
clutches of MCD officials, police and other extortionist mafias that prey on
High Court Appointed Special Task Force
scrapping the existing cycle rickshaw policy as discriminatory which is
violative of the Indian Constitution which promises equality before the law and
freedom of occupation as fundamental rights of all citizens, the High Court
also ordered the Delhi Government to constitute a Special Task Force to create
a new legal regime in order to treat cycle rickshaws and other non-motorized
vehicles (NMVs) as an integral part of the transport system.
On February 27, 2001, Justice Sareen appointed
a Committee with the Police Commissioner Traffic as its member, ordering that
within four months, these stands should become operational. Only 25 stands were
earmarked by the MCD, that too after years of constant pleas by the rickshaw
operators. Even out of these 25, most could not be used because they fall in
zones declared "No Entry" for rickshaws.
was a very happy chance that a pro-citizen IAS officer Rakesh Mehta happened to
be the Chief Secretary of Delhi when the order to set up a Special Task force
was passed by the High Court. He ensured that the High Court was
respected in letter and spirit by:
- Including well qualified
professionals and independent experts on urban planning and traffic
regulation in the Task Force in addition to the required number of bureaucrats
and police officials.
- Ensuring that each issue was
deliberated upon seriously and officers hostile to cycle rickshaws were
not allowed to run rough shod over non-official members.
very strong resistance from the Delhi Police and sections within the
bureaucracy, Mr Mehta enabled the Task Force to come up with a comprehensive
plan of action for reworking the city traffic and making space for NMV vehicles
(For a report
of the Task Force Click here:)
Dedicated NMV track and footpath on the SP Mukherjee Marg leading to Old Delhi Railway Station in use. This was commissioned as one of the three pilot projects by the Delhi Municipal Corporation in response to Manushi's advocacy. The High Court is currently monitoring its functioning to save it from sabotage by MCD employees and Traffic Police.
was assigned the task of presenting a new law for NMVs. The draft I presented
was discussed threadbare and vetted by the legal experts of Delhi government
with Rakesh Mehta personally going over each clause in minute detail. Despite
steadfast and open resistance by the Delhi Police, Mr. Mehta managed to steer
the Task Force towards a consensual acceptance of the new law draft. I am proud
to say that this new law provides a good example of extending the agenda of
liberalization and economic reforms to the livelihoods of the self employed
poor who have thus far been some of the worst victims of the oppressive License
Quota Raid Raj. (For the full
text of the new draft Bill for NMVs click
the police gladly accepted all those measures recommended by the Task Force
that enhanced their powers such as higher penalties for motor vehicles
indulging in traffic violations, they did not take kindly to the liberalized
regime for cycle rickshaws. Therefore, they persuaded the Lt Governor of Delhi
to pressure the Commissioner of Delhi Municipal Corporation to challenge the
High Court order in the Supreme Court, even while the police officers did their
best to derail the functioning of the Task Force by resisting all measures that
would loosen the tyrannical hold of police and municipal officials over the
lives and livelihoods of rickshaw pullers.
despite such a strong judgment in favour of rickshaw pullers by the highest
court in the land, the battle to get the new law enacted and end the lawless
acts of municipal officials and the police is proving to be a prolonged one.
In2011, we had to file a contempt petition in the High Court against the MCD
and the Delhi Police for systematically thwarting the implementation of the new
policy and not putting an end to confiscation drives. That contempt petition is
currently being heard in the High court on a monthly basis.
the new policy is implemented in letter and spirit, it has the potential to
make our cities far more citizen friendly by:
- Reducing air and sound
- Redesigning roads to create safe
dedicated tracks for NMVs so that they do not have to jostle for road
space with high speed motor vehicles. This will not only smoothen the flow
of traffic but also lead to safety for NMV users. For example, the largest
number of those killed in road accidents are bi-cyclists and pedestrians;
- Providing safe space for
pedestrians by creating proper footpaths-something sorely lacking in our
towns and cities leading to a tragically high number of deaths of
pedestrians in road accidents.
Municipal Commissioner had commissioned three pilot projects to test out the
viability of NMV tracks and dedicated footpaths since the police insisted these
provisions were impractical given space constraints. The court is currently
monitoring the functioning of these pilot projects on a monthly basis because
of the callousness with which MCD staff went about making a mockery of these
began this work in mid 1990's amidst far greater hostility against rickshaw
pullers among officials, judges, and policy makers at large. Senior police officers
often referred to rickshaw pullers as vermin who deserved to be exterminated.
We were accused of taking India backward at a time when it was becoming a
global power. Today, we have won important allies within the adminstration and
judiciary. Their numbers are still small but their contribution is significant.
For example, if it were not for the interest taken by Justice Ravinder Bhatt
and Justice Murlidhar who are currently monitoring the conduct of the police
and MCD in the High Court, this issue would have gone in deep freeze. But the
battle is likely to be a very long one.
will be regularly posting reports of this saga for Manushi friends. However, ultimately, I would like to live in a world where no one needs to undertake such back breaking drudgery just to earn a survival wage.