When the e-rickshaw was introduced in the national capital in 2009, just before the Commonwealth Games, its convenience and affordability made it instantly popular. As a low-cost bridge connecting metro stations and bus stops with residences and other destinations, its utility is undeniable. But it is also true that it has existed in a regulatory void for much of its existence — as pointed out by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, when it refused to lift its ban on it until the government framed draft guidelines to regulate its operation.
First, e-rickshaws were allowed to ply on city roads without drawing up rules and safety guidelines, causing confusion over the agency — the Delhi Transport Authority or the Municipal Corporation of Delhi — that was to regulate them. Later, citing safety concerns, the lieutenant governor ordered manufacturers to get their products approved by automotive research institutes. They failed to comply, and in April the government banned e-rickshaws. This was overturned in June, when Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, a Central law that defines a “motor vehicle”, would be amended to exempt a “three-wheeled electric motor propelled” vehicle with engine capacity of 650 watts. But on July 31, the Delhi High Court once again banned e-rickshaws. How they are categorised has a bearing on their safety — avoiding classification under the MV Act allows drivers to be unlicenced, uninsured and untrained while they ferry passengers in a vehicle not subject to any safety or quality inspection.
Tripura could offer a solution. In January, it became the first state to notify rules to regulate e-rickshaws without bringing them under the purview of the MV Act. Amendments to the state’s Rickshaw Regulation Act made it mandatory for an e-rickshaw driver, who must be over 20 years old, to have a driving licence, valid for three years. Dealers must also certify their vehicles via the state-run Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited. Despite repeated criticism by the Delhi HC, which had earlier given until May 21 to frame a policy on e-rickshaws, the government has continually missed opportunities to resolve a crisis of its own making. Now, with people’s livelihoods hanging in the balance, it must borrow from Tripura’s template and create a regulatory framework that can bring e-rickshaws back on the roads in a safe way.