ByÂ Krishna Prasanth:
North Campus of Delhi University is one place that is full of activity day in and day out. With students rushing to college all day and then to coaching classes into the evening, not to forget the enormous crowd that the Kamla Nagar market attracts into the night it’s a heaven for cycle-rickshaw pullers, or at least it was. Earlier it was these rickshaw-wallahs who ruled the roost here, with enough demand to pull off a decent living. Things have changed now, and you can spot them wearing desolate faces sitting in despair, waiting for customers.
New toys have to come to ply on the campus streets these days, locally called ‘Mayuris’. These battery-powered 3-wheeler ‘Mayuris’ ply faster than the traditional rickshaws and can ferry five people at once, which is why they charge half the price that the rickshaws ask. The benefits for students are evident here and hence their preference. A vehicle that charges less and goes faster! A better deal by far! Hence, the otherwise busy rickshaw pullers have now become a desolate lot. Their plight is evident.
So I met Gobind. He has been into the rickshaw business for 3 years now. He is from Jharkhand and runs his rickshaw for 6-8 months every year. He says “Earlier, I would save Rs 350-400 everyday, after meeting my daily expenses on food and rent. Now I am able to only save Rs 150-200 a day. Riding cycle-rickshaw all day is very difficult and physically demanding. With such low income these days, with the coming of these ‘mayuris’, this business doesn’t seem lucrative anymore. Life is so easier for these ‘mayuri-wallas’ ! They make Rs 100 on a trip to and fro. Just 10 trips and there are set for the day, without any physical effort. I don’t have enough money to buy one.” He further adds “I came all the way to Delhi only to put together some savings, as I can’t save when I am back home with my family there. Now I will have to look for work somewhere else.”
Most rickshaw-wallas here have a similar story to tell. They are mostly migrants, who come from far off places to put together some money for their families. Now they will have to go searching somewhere else looking for decent jobs. Gobind further says “I knew I could always come back to Delhi to make some savings. Now I don’t know where to look for. But I am hopeful I will find work somewhere or the other. I used to work as a labourer in Orissa earlier. My contractor removed me later on, which is when I came here”.
Stories are just the opposite on the other side of the fence. The ‘mayuri-wallas’ are a satisfied lot. This one particular mayuri driver I met was from Bareilly, who settled in Delhi. He says “I used to ply a vegetables trolley earlier. I used to earn close to Rs 1000-1200. But it was physically tasking as I had to walk all day. Then I put my savings into buying this ‘mayuri’. It cost me a lakh. Now I earn almost the same, or maybe slightly more but there is no physical stress in this so I am happy now.”
At the crux of it all are the students, who make the business happen for these people. They are clear about their preferences. Suraj, a student of SRCC says “Earlier it would cost me Rs 40 a day in just travel, inspite of putting up here on campus. Now it costs me Rs 20 when I take a ‘Mayuri’ to and fro, so obviously I prefer it. But rickshaws are the only choice when it comes to going to other places, given that ‘Mayuris’ don’t ply along all routes. Moreover, these ‘Mayuris’ wait for their seats to fill up, which takes time during odd hours which is when rickshaws are preferable. So they are still useful and convenient at times.”
So, while ‘Mayuris’ might have caused some trouble for the rickshaw-wallas, Suraj’s view makes it clear that rickshaws are still necessary. While a few ‘Gobinds’ might just look for work somewhere else, it does seem that rickshaws are here to stay, at least for now.