For Harish, being able to ply his e-rickshaw on the roads of the national capital without any hindrance from law is still a far cry.
As the sole bread winner of his family, Harish, a father of five, says he has to "grease the palm" of the authorities to be allowed to run his battery-operated rickshaw on certain stretches in the city.
"Though the Delhi government has agreed to regulate e-rickshaws and provide us licences to ply on the roads, they have also introduced several norms which have made the process lengthy and expensive," Harish, who belongs to Madhubani in Bihar, told IANS.
"I bought my e-rickshaw after taking loan from a money lender. Now shelling out some Rs.30,000 more to get my e-rickshaw on the road is not possible for me. So I have to bribe the authorities to ply my e-rickshaw," Harish said. Thousands of e-rickshaw owners and drivers face the same problem and describe the registration and validation process as lengthy and expensive.
Jai Bhagwan Goel, chairperson, Battery Rickshaw Sangh (BRS), says that after months of uncertainty, to make the plying of e-rickshaws official the Delhi government started the process of licensing and registration through facilitation camps.
Parliament approved the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2015, with the Rajya Sabha passing it on March 11. The Lok Sabha passed the bill last week. The bill that replaces an ordinance aims at bringing e-rickshaws and e-carts under the ambit of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1957, so that they can ply across the country.
Following this, the Delhi government asked owners to register their battery-operated rickshaws under the Delhi Motor Vehicle Act. The transport department organised special camps for issuing learners licenses, PSV (Public Service Vehicle) badges and registration of e-rickshaws at the 13 transport offices across the capital.
The authorities had said they would issue permanent licences 10 days after issuing a learner's licence. Now this period has been increased to a month and the licence would be issued after police verification.
"Till now 21,000 people have applied for registration. The Transport department has sent the details to the respective police stations for verification, which has not yet started. Verifying 21,000 people and issuing them licence will certainly take much time," Goel told IANS.
Getting a permanent licence is not the end of the problem. They have to get a clearance certificate for the vehicle from the transport department, which can be procured only after modifying the e-rickshaws in tune with the models cleared by International Center for Automotive Technology (ICAT), he added.
To ensure the safety of passengers and the vehicle, ICAT has asked for certain modifications in the e-rickshaws, including introduction of a chassis number, changing the headlight, indicators, taillight, battery, rim and tyre, wiring and horn. ICAT has also asked for installing a valid number plate with a light on it.
"These modifications have made the e-rickshaws costlier. One will have to shell out Rs.32,000 for these modifications, including the changing of the battery. Every e-rickshaw driver cannot afford this," said Goel, adding that the government should arrange for providing loans to e-rickshaw owners to get the modifications done.
The lack of a proper policy on e-rickshaws has led to the mushrooming of these vehicles on Delhi's roads, estimated to number more than 100,000. The popular e-rickshaws have, in fact, edged out cycle rickshaws.
"They have overtaken cycle rickshaws in popularity and are giving stiff competition to auto rickshaws. A proper policy, though, is required," rickshaw puller Anantram Pasi in Chandni Chowk told IANS.
Gurmeet Singh, part of another association of e-rickshaws, said most parts of the vehicle were imported from China and put together by local manufacturers. "It is an environment-friendly option and needs to be promoted. We have nothing against being registered, but we want the government to provide us with certain benefits like other transport unions get," Gurmeet Singh told IANS.
"For a low-cost mode of transport the returns are very low; so there is a need to ensure safety. People have just ensured mobility but safety is a precursor to mobility. The vehicle's structure can be improved through research efforts," Sudipto Mukherjee, professor of mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, told IANS.
Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Muktesh Chandra said that it would be a welcome move if e-rickshaws were operated in a regulated way. "We have provided to the transport department the list of routes where they should ply in the city. Such vehicles should be kept away from the high-speed corridors. There should now be no problem with e-rickshaws while having trained drivers for this mode of transport," Chandra told IANS.
"E-rickshaws cannot ferry more than four passengers and 40 kg luggage at one time. It may work tremendously well as feeder services in certain areas. To ensure safety of passengers overloading will not be allowed at any cost," he added.