Capital Debut – Solar Rickshaws, Chandni Chowk

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Solar Rickshaws, Chandni Chowk

New commute in the city.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

In the winter of 2008 it is not just Delhi’s airport travellers who will want the city sky to be fog free – and sunny, but passengers on the city’s new solar powered rickshaws, too. Soleckshaws, as they are known, run on solar-powered batteries, and were introduced early in October outside Chandni Chowk metro station by the Assam-based Center for Rural Development (CRD).

At the time of writing this piece, there are only four soleckshaws in the city; that too on just one route – Old Delhi station to Red Fort. Charge – Rs 15. “It’s a pilot project to understand their compatibility in the field and to get feedback from commuters and rickshaw-pullers,” says Dr Pradip Sarmah, Executive Director, CRD.

Spotting these ricks seems as elusive as coming across a yeti in the Himalayas. “I haven’t seen the light-waali riksa yet,” says rickshaw-walla Mr Par Jahan. But Mr Manjoor, another rickshaw-walla, boasts he saw one just ten minutes ago. “It is a white colour,” he says. Rickshaw puller Mr Ram Kumar, standing opposite Gurdwara Seesanj, differs: “No, it’s green.”

Finally, it was another rickshaw-walla who guided the Delhi Walla to Yudhvir Singh Park, tucked next to the metro station where the four rickshaws stood– glinting under the sun like bashful morning-after brides — in maroon, green, silver-gray and orange.

Developed over eight months in Durgapur’s Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, the soleckshaws have animated Micky Mouse and Donald Duck designs painted on their sides while their leather seats are as comfortably padded as PVR’s Gold Class.

“You may also charge your mobile phones,” says Mr Mohammad Matin, the proud puller of one of the rickshaws. He later points at a box below the seat which hid the solar battery, the soleckshaw’s CPU. The stuff next to it was more interesting – an FM radio.

The wallahs too look new – cap, white shirt, gray jacket, gray trousers, and a laminated I-card, too. “But I have to wash them everyday,” says Mr Matin. A minor irritant considering that he ain’t paid a single penny for the Rs 22, 000 rickshaw. The drivers, in fact, have been hired as daily-wagers by CRD.

“In spite of being heavier by 90kgs, we don’t have to use the pedals except on a climb,” explains Mr Matin. “In the soleckshaw, the body doesn’t get that tired and I’ll not lose weight.”

Other rickshaw-wallas are turning green with envy. “I’m a viklang,” says Mr Ram Kumar whose left arm was cut off by a machine back home in the village. “I too want a soleckshaw.”

And the passengers?

“We’ve a problem with them,” laughs Dr Sarmah. “Rather than riding, they are too curious about the uniqueness of the design.”

Happy with life

Solar Rickshaws, Chandni Chowk

It’s my toy

Solar Rickshaws, Chandni Chowk

OK Tata Bye Bye

Solar Rickshaws, Chandni Chowk