Plight of Rickshaw-pullers in VIP Areas

Faizul Khan Tanim writes on a new wave of rickshaw ban

Absurd as it may sound, but it is true that a new wave of rickshaw ban has hit the VIP areas of the capital with no permission to ply on the streets from 09:00 pm onwards. Residents of Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, DOHS, Baridhara allege that there is no rickshaw available on the streets from 09:00 pm and even if a commuter finds one, h/she is asked to step down at police checkpoints and walk all the way home.

Many residents are dumbstruck by this new change. They believe that rickshaws are not only green vehicles with zero pollution but are safer than black cabs and cheaper than CNG auto-rickshaws.

Amina Begum (not her real name), a local bank employee said, “Last week I had a very busy schedule one day and had to leave late from work in Mohakhali at around 10:15. To my surprise, there was no rickshaw around so I walked till BRAC University and fortunately found one. But alas! I was stopped at the Gulshan-1 police checkpoint with the patrolling officer screaming at the top of his lungs at the rickshaw-puller since he apparently broke the law”.

“I got harassed by those policemen, forced down from the ride and asked to walk home. But when I requested and told them it is very late at night, the junior constables to my surprise asked me to spend time in the duty officer’s box and then maybe they would help me find a rickshaw”.

Speaking to rickshaw-pullers, one Hamid Miah from Banani said, “Previously the law was that, rickshaws cannot ply on the main roads of the VIP suburbs before 8:30 pm since they are slow moving and cause traffic congestion but now there is a new rule of NO PLYING after 09:00 pm…Is this the new no-food policy for the poor?”

“The street law change is only applicable for us, the extreme poor people. We don’t even know when the cops change rules. The governments must understand one thing, without our votes, they will lose a majority of ballots since we poor people make up the maximum population of Bangladesh and not the rich and famous riding posh cars,” Miah added.
Another rickshaw puller Mohammed Islam said previously he had an income of Taka 300 to 400 for a half day shift which came down to Taka 200 after the ban and the owners take Taka 60 deposit for that half shift. “If the cops catch us, the punishment usually is taking away the seat, which costs Taka 700 for brand new and 300 for second-hand. With so less income and such high penalty, how can we survive?”
Islam confirmed the fact that most owners have multiple rickshaws with the same number plate but they do have several stickers of associations and Bangladesh Rickshaw and Van Owners Federation which saves them from getting confiscated by the cops if they drive on the VIP roads before 9:00 pm, which is illegal.
The policemen from the different checkpoints around Gulshan and Banani however give different views. A duty officer from Gulshan 1-Tejgaon checkpoint requesting anonymity said, “Look, we just follow orders from the top level. The idea of banning rickshaws from 10:00 pm is to curb crimes in the VIP areas, especially mugging the foreigners and car hijacking, which is why we have several barricades on different alleys so that the hijackers cannot speed away after robbery”.
Another resident said we do not have proper walking facility. Thanks to crime, broken footpaths, shops and vehicles mounted on them and not to mention the ever-lasting stench of urine and juice of betel leaf chew, residents, especially women, cannot walk on the city streets properly. Moreover, the CNG auto-rickshaws and buses are not available for short trips.
There is rising awareness on these bans and more and more citizens’ journalists, bloggers are raising voices. One such Syed Saiful Alam Shovan asked in his blog post: Does the experience with rickshaw bans to date suggest that such bans effectively reduce traffic congestion?