Ban on e-rickshaws: whether a wise and practical decision?

Prachi Kumari, Student, Law School, BHU, Varanasi

Bench of Justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Siddharth Mridul of Delhi High Court has upheld the ban on e-rickshaws, and said the Court cannot issue a writ of mandamus to legalise what is illegal as per the existing law. The petition in this issue was filed by social activist Shanawaz Khan through advocate Sugrive Dubey, seeking a ban on e-rickshaws. It was filed because the vehicles are playing without any registration and during accidents; cases are not registered under the proper law. The petition stated “no person without valid licence be allowed to ply e-rickshaws”.

In the wake of this petition, the Delhi High Court on July 31 had banned plying of e-rickshaws in Delhi and had even taken cognizance of an accident in which a child was killed. The Court had then said e-rickshaws “are prima facie a hazard to other traffic as well citizens”. On August 21, the court had refused to pass any interim order to permit the operation of e-rickshaws and had fixed August 29 as date for orders.

Electric Rickshaws are used as an alternative to auto rickshaws and pulled rickshaws because of their low fuel cost and less human effort compared to pulled rickshaws. They are run by Lead Acid battery. Although, Plying of e-rickshaws loaded with such batteries is not safe or certified according to environment act, they are accepted on the Indian streets due to their low cost and high efficiency. They are pulled by an electric motor ranging from 650-1400 Watts. They started to gain popularity in India since 2011. The number of e-rickshaws in Delhi by April 2012 was over 100,000 as per government officials.

In the present petition, it was submitted that e-rickshaws had no registration numbers and the vehicles were putting passengers at risk. Claiming that the e-rickshaws are high risk vehicles, they have been involved in more than 200 accidents in the past 3 months alone, with two fatalities, the petitioner had sought a ban. The petition also stated that e-rickshaws are operated with four batteries of 12 volts with power output of 650 to 850 watt and are designed to ferry only four people, including the driver, but they carry more than 8 people at a time endangering their lives.

Moreover, the traffic police in an affidavit filed before the court, highlighted serious concerns over the accidents involving e-rickshaws and said that unfettered operation of the battery-operated vehicles causes traffic problems on the roads. It had also said that as the operation of e-rickshaws is not covered under the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA), and hence police are unable to prosecute the drivers.

Therefore, in order to regularize moving of such rickshaws, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has released a draft notification on 15 September 2014 and has made necessary amendments under Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.

I think e-rickshaws are better substitute for Petrol/Diesel/CNG auto rickshaws. According to experts, Battery-run rickshaws could be a low-emitter complementary transport for the low-income people, who suffer most from a lack of transport facility, if introduced in a systematic manner. Therefore, complete ban on e-rickshaws does not seem to be a wise and practical decision. Instead of this ban we should move towards running it with safety measures. Since, it is designed to ferry only four people including driver, carrying more than four people should be banned in order to avoid accident. Limitation regarding speed should be strictly followed. Besides this, only registered drivers should be permitted to run this vehicle so that accident cases can be registered. Owing to popularity of e-rickshaws, I don’t think it would be easy to put them off the streets. Therefore, e-rickshaws should not be completely barred and should be operated with safety measures.