It is known as the e-rickshaw, and is generating a lot more power than its battery usually does. The three-wheeled battery-operated vehicle, which competes with auto-rickshaws, appeared on Delhi streets two years ago. Regulations about its use are still unclear, but the e-rickshaw has turned into a major political vehicle, as the Delhi police began impounding vehicles for not conforming to the Motor Vehicle Act. The BJP, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have all sought to win the support of Delhi’s estimated over one lakh e-rickshaw drivers ahead of assembly elections in Delhi later this year.
Stripped of its political baggage, e-rickshaws are an eco-friendly way of transport that could benefit heavily polluted cities like Delhi, but the debate is really over whether they are legal and also a safe mode of transport. Currently, they do not come under the purview of the Motor Vehicle Act which is where the roadblock lies. Until recently, it was unclear what official vehicle category e-rickshaws actually fell under. Vehicles with motor power of less than 250 watts that travel at less than 25 km per hour are regarded as non-motorised vehicles that don’t need to be registered with the Transport Department. However, a study by TERI found that though most of Delhi’s e-rickshaws have engines of between 650 and 1,000 watts, they were still unregistered. Environmentalists say e-rickshaws could help reduce pollution if appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place for the charging and disposal of batteries. Battery-operated rickshaws can be less polluting which makes Delhi a test case for the rest of the country, but a lot of them carry loads over the prescribed limit. That is a danger to passengers as well as safety of other vehicles. But with elections round the corner, Delhi’s e-rickshaws are getting pretty much a free ride.