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 is, in fact, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Institute of Medical Science, Research and Human Resources, and is chaired by Gadkari himself.
When contacted, its director Viral Kamdar told The Indian Express: “Gadkariji told me that our trust could bear some of the cost of Purti’s rickshaws, along with some other trusts, so that the buyer’s burden of bank or government loan is reduced. We had a talk some time back but details of the scheme are yet to be worked out.”
“This rickshaw project has been a dream of Gadkariji,” said PGT director Totade. “We are not into rickshaws so much for making money — we have bigger businesses — as to end an inhuman practice. Our models are totally indigenous and better suited for Indian roads than Chinese rickshaws being sold in Delhi. We spent more than three years in R&D. Our subsidy scheme didn’t take off because of legal restrictions. Now, thanks to the bold decisions of the new government, we will enter the market.”
Ashok alias Rajesh Totade is Nitin Gadkari’s brother-in-law. Ashok’s elder brother Kishor Kamalakar Totade is one of the three directors of Softlink Technologies Pvt Ltd along with sister Kanchan Gadkari née Totade. PGT is registered at the address of the Totade brothers.
Prasad Prabhakarrao Kashikar, the other director of PGT, is also director of Chaitanya Constructions And Builders Private Limited along with Nitin Gadkari’s son Sarang Gadkari.
PGT, incidentally, was one of 12 companies that responded to the Uttar Pradesh government’s invitation for Expression of Interest in supplying battery-run rickshaws in October 2012. The UP government had tested sample rickshaws from these companies including two from PGT in 2013 and selected six firms, including PGT.
However, none of the six companies bid when a tender was floated in December 2013 and subsequently cancelled for technical reasons. Fresh bids, say UP government sources, will be invited once the Centre amends the MV Act.
‘No one has monopoly over production nor is any one banned’
Excerpts from Nitin Gadkari’s response to questions by The Indian Express
Purti Green Technologies Pvt Ltd, one of the companies of the Purti group that you chaired till 2011, has shown interest in manufacturing and selling battery-run rickshaws. Given that PGT will benefit from a change in the law regarding motor wattage, do you think your decision to amend the MV Act raises the question of impropriety and conflict of interest?
The interests and welfare of over two lakh e-rickshaw drivers and their families has been upper most in mind of the Narendra Modi government while reviewing the notification that was issued during the UPA regime by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) on April 24 to the e-rickshaw pullers, rendering them illegal…
The notification was depriving the poor e-rickshaw drivers of their employment and livelihood to their families.
Besides, the e-rickshaws are eco-friendly and can be driven by women and people with disabilities. According to our estimates more than 10 lakh families are dependent on this mode of transport…
Thousands of e-rickshaws have been operating in Delhi NCR & some other cities across the country for a number of years. 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. In fact manufacturers are welcomed to come forward in this field so that we could get away with the man-driven cycle rickshaw.
On June 17, you also announced a Deendayal scheme to provide government loans to potential buyers of battery-run rickshaws at 3% interest. Last October, you announced a similar scheme for the buyers of Purti rickshaws through your Deendayal Trust in Nagpur. Do you think announcing this scheme as a union minister raises the question of impropriety and conflict of interest?
Our ideologue Pt. Deendayala Upadhayaya propounded the philosophy of integral humanism and Antodaya (emancipation of the downtrodden). I proudly declared the e-rickshaw scheme after his name. It is our humble tribute to our great thinker.
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 for the welfare of the e-rickshaw drivers so they could become owners of their vehicle.
I will welcome all NGOs & social enterprisers across the country to join this campaign of promoting e-rickshaws and helping the owners to get them loans from the banks at 3%.