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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 08:45 GMT 09:45 UK
Calcutta plans ban on rickshaws
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

A rickshaw puller takes his customer through a flooded street after rains in Calcutta
Many rely on the hand-pulled rickshaw during the monsoon
Calcutta's famous hand-pulled rickshaws will soon be banned, according to the chief minister of the Indian state of West Bengal.

The rickshaws had long been considered "inhuman" and did not exist anywhere else, Buddhadev Bhattacharya said.

The rickshaw, immortalised as a living symbol of Calcutta in films such as City of Joy, will be phased out in four to five months.

The hand-pulled rickshaw came from China in the 19th century.

Mr Bhattacharya said: "We have taken a policy decision to take the hand-drawn rickshaw off the roads of Calcutta on humanitarian grounds.

"Nowhere else in the world does this practice exist and we think it should also cease to exist in Calcutta," he said.

The chief minister said the authorities were thinking of alternative modes of transport so that the transition did not affect either the pullers or the riders.

"This involves money and training. It will be about the end of this year when the rickshaws are finally gone," he said.

Uncertain future

A recent study by a non-governmental organisation, ActionAid India, put the number of hand-rickshaw pullers at 18,000 with more than 1,800 joining the pool every year.

Many Calcuttans are uncertain whether they will be able to move around the city's old lanes without the hand-pulled rickshaws - particularly during the monsoon.

"When we have to wade in chest-deep water during rains, no other transport works but you can still find the hand-pulled rickshaws taking people from one place to another," says Dipali Nath, a housewife in north Calcutta.

Some trade unions are demanding adequate compensation and an alternate livelihood for all the pullers before their licences are cancelled and the mode of transport banned.

"We expect the government will not throw them into the streets and leave them an empty stomach," said Mohammed Nizamuddin , a communist party leader who is involved with the rickshaw pullers union in Calcutta.

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