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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Rickshaw strike cripples Dhaka
Auto-rickshaws in Delhi, India
Auto-rickshaws are common throughout South Asia

Nearly 40,000 motorised rickshaw drivers have gone on strike in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, in protest at a ban on their vehicles.


How can we travel in this city if they don't make any alternative arrangement

Tanveer Shams,
banker
On Monday the government said it would go ahead with plans to outlaw all polluting vehicles from next month - including three-wheeler auto-rickshaws.

Tuesday's strike forced hundreds of thousands of middle-class commuters to use the city's already overcrowded public buses to get to work, and there were long queues at bus stops.

With nearly a quarter of all vehicles off the roads, Dhaka was spared the usual traffic jam seen on any normal working day.

Futile protests

The striking "baby taxi" drivers staged protests in different parts of the city, and some of them joined a hunger strike in front of a mausoleum in central Dhaka.

Busy road in Dhaka
Dhakans want to know how they will get work
But the government is standing firm on its plans to phase out the auto-rickshaws, which it blames for much of the city's unbearable air pollution.

They are driven by two-stroke engines, and use a mix of petrol and oil as fuel, emitting a high volume of pollutants into the air.

Communication Minister Nazmul Huda insisted on Monday that the government would not back down on its plan, and said paramilitary troops would enforce the ban.

The government also warned that any "baby taxi" fitted with a two-stroke engine found on the streets of Dhaka after 1 September would be seized and scrapped by the police.

Awareness campaign

To drum up support for the ban, the government has also decided to launch a campaign to raise public awareness about the polluting vehicles.

Most people agree with ministers that the auto-rickshaws are to blame for Dhaka's notoriously poor air quality.

But many people are critical of the government for failing to make any alternative arrangements before imposing the ban.

"Today's strike gave us a glimpse of how it will look like after these baby taxis are taken off the streets," said Tanveer Shams, who works in a private bank.

"I have been waiting here for half an hour looking for a taxi cab, but found none and there is no bus and no scooter.

"How can we travel in this city if they don't make any alternative arrangement."

Government schemes

The government says it is taking urgent measures to address the problem.

With the support of the Asian Development Bank, officials are now working on a project to replace the "baby taxis" with new, imported vehicles using cleaner fuel like compressed natural gas (CNG).

The Asian Development Bank will provide $80m to import 300 buses and 2000 three-wheelers fitted with four-stroke engines.

The government hopes the arrival of these new vehicles within the next couple of months will go some way towards easing the suffering of city commuters.

See also:

31 Jan 02 | South Asia
03 May 01 | South Asia
02 Oct 98 | South Asia
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