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Rickshaw at Stake!

January 23, 2011

When Globalization was at the heart of development discourse, Bangladesh’s status in the global village was often compared with the presence of rickshaw on a highway.  Many claimed first victim of the Pak military crack-down of 25th march in 1971 was an unknown rickshaw-puller. Rickshaw painting was applauded in the exhibition galleries at home and abroad. Rickshaw has become a distinctive part of Bangladesh’s City life, even its cynical critic won’t imagine Bangladesh’s streets without it. Since the time it was introduced, it has been dominating the streets of Bangladesh.

Rickshaw

But for the first time, undisputed empire of rickshaw is facing a real menace from a stranger, who came all the way from China!

You all have already seen it rolling on the streets of Dhaka and suburbs. People call it Auto a.k.a.  easy bike, a Chinese battery-run electric rickshaw. Its number on the roads of Bangladesh is increasing at an alarming rate and in distant future it may outnumber rickshaw. More and more people are opting for Auto as it generates higher daily income.

Rashidul Islam, a rickshaw-puller in Kachukhet-Mirpur area, told,“After paying a rickshaw-rent of TK 80 to my boss, everyday I earn Tk150-Tk 200. If I had an auto, I would have earned TK300-TK500.”

Apart from higher income, many other factors are needed to consider before we give auto carte-blanche to move freely on our streets.

A salesman of an auto display center told every single part including the battery is imported all the way from China. Meanwhile, virtually all the components that are vital for making a rickshaw are locally produced.

Excluding the driver 4 to 7 person can ride on it. Having less sitting capacity than an auto, rickshaw remains popular among petty businessmen and small vendors for transporting goods in shorter distance.

Auto

An auto could run maximum 120 k.m. on fully charged battery. Auto dealers claim it as an environment friendly vehicle, yet the battery is charged with electricity generated from fossil-fuel. In contrast, Rickshaw is a widely recognized environment-friendly vehicle.

Usually a rickshaw costs TK 14,000 whereas an Auto is sold at a price between TK 90, 000 to TK 105,000 depending on the model and parts. But a crucial question remains unanswered. Is this price lower than the production cost or market price? We have to take this matter seriously since Auto could become a competitor to Mishuk and CNG Auto-rickshaw years down the line.

Six months or one year later Auto owners will find it difficult to replace their old parts as models become obsolete very quickly, a common feature of Chinese goods nowadays.

Most importantly, there is no bank loan for purchasing auto. So chaps like Rshidul, who could easily own a rickshaw, would find it very hard to purchase an auto. This means rickshaw-pullers will depend more and more on wealthy auto owners and become vulnerable to exploitation.

But the puzzling fact is that Dhaka City Corporation does not award any license to Auto, which means it is rolling on Dhaka streets illegally. However, in suburbs and villages, Union Parishad and Local Municipal Authority award Auto license.

Last but not the least, as a labor-abundant country Bangladesh should not welcome Auto on its street. Everyday thousands of rural people are rushing towards cities for  job. In the end, they drive rickshaw as they failed to find a suitable job in formal sector. Introduction of auto, which carries 3 to 4 times more passenger than a rickshaw, might shrink the job market in the informal sector and could increase the number of unemployed people living in makeshift communities.

Time has come to give a serious thought about how long we will allow this Chinese stranger on roads since Rickshaw at stake means the very identity of Bangladesh is at stake!

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