On alibaba.com, the privately-owned Hangzhou-based $7.5 billion business-to-business portal, one of the keenly-marketed products is one branded broadly as an “electric rickshaw for the Indian market”, quoting FOB (free-on-board) prices of between $400-$500 per piece for minimum orders of 40-60 units, depending on the manufacturer.
The popularity of the product on the Alibaba charts comes presumably in the wake of the sharp surge in the vehicle numbers that have started playing in cities such as Delhi, exploiting a lacuna in the law that categorises vehicles with motive power of less than 250W and speed less than 25kmph as non-motorised vehicles as provided under Delhi Motor Vehicles Act.
China is where these contraptions were initially conceptualised, and shipped on trial to India a couple of years ago, even though the idea for the product is being attributed to businessmen of Indian origin settled in the trading hub of Guangzhou, the capital of the Guangdong province.
Even as policy-makers grapple with the task of regulating the vehicles that are plying in lakhs in cities such as Delhi, the battery-operated rickshaw in its current avatar are largely built in India, with at least two key imported components coming from China. These are a 24 volt motor that is generally powered by two 12 volt batteries, which gives a motive power of around 650 watts or nearly one horsepower (730W), and the electronic speed controller. While the handle and the frame were initially imported from China, progressively, the battery and the body have started being manufactured in India, which have spawned an entire small-scale industry in the Eastern and Western suburbs of Delhi.
While the e-rickshaws offer the best bet as an option for the replacement of the manual rickshaws that ply in most cities, analysts are of the view that the unregulated assembly of these battery-powered rickshaws, poses certain risks.
“There are various structural issues with these battery-powered vehicles, primarily because they are assembled locally. This is done without caring for the centre of gravity, its weight to passenger ratio, construction material and certification by any third party for its safety and proper speed,” S P Singh, senior fellow at Indian Federation of Transport Research and Training, said.
Plus, they also put high-powered batteries in these rickshaws, which can take them to a speed of 30 kmph. “To top it all, these rickshaws carry more than the prescribed number of passengers,” Singh said.
According to official estimates, some 90,000 battery powered e-rickshaws ply on Delhi roads and compete with over 300,000 auto-rickshaws.
“These rickshaws should be allowed within colonies, large institutes and industrial areas, where commuting is a problem. They are already a safety hazard on the trunk roads of Delhi,” Rohit Baluja, president of the Institute of Road Traffic Education, said.