A fortnight ago, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said the government would change the law to overturn a ban on e-rickshaws in the capital and launch the “Deen Dayal scheme” under which potential buyers of the vehicle would get a loan at 3 per cent interest.
This was not only good news for an estimated 1 lakh operators who currently ply their trade in a legal grey zone — with no regulation on either standards or safety — but also for a company in Nagpur closely linked with Gadkari and his family.
Purti Green Technologies (PGT) Private Limited, registered in 2011, is one of the companies of the Purti Group founded by Gadkari — he was chairman until 2011. PGT is one of seven companies licensed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to manufacture and sell battery-run rickshaws in 2012. PGT director Ashok alias Rajesh Totade, Gadkari’s brother-in-law, told The Indian Express that the company has been waiting for this exemption on motor wattage so that it can start manufacturing and marketing battery-run rickshaws.
It’s exactly this exemption that Gadkari referred to in his speech at a rally on June 17. “E-rickshaws having motor up to 650 W will be regarded as non-motorised vehicles. The transport department and traffic police cannot challan them,” he said, promising to amend the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act, 1988, that, currently, exempts only vehicles under 250 W with a speed limit of 25 kmph.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Totade said: “We would not get into anything illegal as there was this question on motor wattage. But now with the Centre planning to change the (Motor Vehicles) Act, we will be ready to launch our product in the market.”
Responding to an email from The Indian Express asking if his announcement raises questions of propriety and conflict of interest, Gadkari said: “These rickshaws are being manufactured by various companies and no particular manufacturer has got monopoly over its production nor is any one banned from doing so…As far as encouraging banks to provide loan to e-rickshaw owners at 3% is concerned, I have already written to the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Union finance minister Shri Arun jaitley to do the needful,” he said. (For full reply, see Excerpts from Nitin Gadkari’s response to questions by The Indian Express below)
With Gadkari talking of 2 crore e-rickshaw units across the country and the average price of a battery-run rickshaw estimated between Rs 70,000 and Rs 100,000, manufacturers like PGT are waiting to rush in.
Gadkari’s interest in e-rickshaws isn’t new. In January 2013, he showcased one of the PGT battery-run rickshaws with NCP leader Sharad Pawar by his side at Agro Vision 2013 exhibition in Nagpur. In October that year, at a Purti function, he announced that a part of the cost to buy these rickshaws would be borne by the Purti Group and the Deen Dayal Trust run by it.
That trust continued…