Responding to the report in The Indian Express on Tuesday that Union Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari’s promise to legalise e-rickshaws could also benefit a company linked to his family, both the BJP and the government claimed that neither Gadkari nor “any member of his family is associated with any e-rickshaw manufacturing firm.”
The statement said that Gadkari “has no commercial interests whatsoever with the e-rickshaw manufacturing sector nor has he got any link with Purti Green Technologies (PGT) Pvt. Ltd, which, according to reports in a section of the media, has shown interest in manufacturing battery-run rickshaws.”
However, Rajesh Totade, brother of Gadkari’s wife Kanchan Gadkari and director of PGT, had a slightly different take. Speaking to The Indian Express today, he said: “We are a small player. There are several other companies manufacturing e-rickshaws. And we have been in it for past four years. Does the Constitution of India bar relatives of a politician from pursuing anything they want to do? If that is not the case, then how can media be the judges of what we should do and what we shouldn’t?”
Incidentally, Gadkari had sidestepped this issue on Tuesday, when The Indian Express asked him whether his announcement that he would amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 raised questions of conflict of interest given that PGT said it was waiting for the amendment to manufacture and market e-rickshaws.
Currently, the law exempts vehicles under 250 W with a speed limit of 25 kmph while a typical e-rickshaw has motor wattage up to 650 W. Totade had told The Indian Express that PGT was waiting for the amendment — promised by Gadkari at a June 17 rally in New Delhi — to come through so that it could manufacture and market e-rickshaws.
Incidentally, Gadkari had avoided any reference to PGT in his reply to this newspaper and instead said that “no particular manufacturer has got monopoly over its production.” PGT was registered on January 28, 2011 and got a licence to manufacture e-rickshaws from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Gadkari, who was a director in Purti Sugar and Power Ltd, one of the group’s ventures, had stepped aside on August 27, 2011, months after PGT was set up. In a press note, Totade said, “Nitin Gadkari and family members have absolutely no commercial interests in our company. Reports in a section of the media trying to link Nitin Gadkari and his family with PGT Pvt Ltd are misleading and factually incorrect.”
Totade’s elder brother Kishor Kamlakar Totade is one of three directors of Softlink Technologies Pvt Ltd along with sister Kanchan Gadkari née Totade. Prasad Prabhakarrao Kashikar, the other director of PGT, is also director of Chaitanya Constructions and Builders Pvt Ltd along with Nitin Gadkari’s son Sarang Gadkari.
As for manufacture of e-rickshaws by CSIR-licensed firms, PGT could not have marketed its battery-run rickshaws despite being licensed by the CSIR because the licence was to manufacture rickshaws as per specifications of the CSIR-developed rickshaw with a 240 W motor.