The e--rickshaw future. Hundreds of thousands of electric three-wheelers - popularly called e-rickshaws - have been operating in India for over three years now, but without any kind of legal authority. In Delhi, the high court has recently banned their operation temporarily, though it has indicated its willingness to review that decision. The executive should know by now that slowness to respond to situations such as allows the judiciary to step in. But the government's reaction to the growth of e-rickshaws has been typically tardy - and worse, contradictory. In April, the Union road transport ministry, then under the United Progressive Alliance, classified them as "motorised vehicles" and subject to the motor vehicles department's existing requirements. This was lazy and a mistake - it amounted to a ban on e-rickshaws in totality. But before this new regime could be formalised, Nitin Gadkari, the current minister for road transport, publicly reversed the decision in June. Thus, the ministry will have to rework the relevant provisions (particularly restricting e-rickshaw engine power to under 650 watts) so that they can be treated as non-motorised and taken out of the Motor Vehicles Act. Over a month after the minister's announcement, this has still not happened.
Mr Gadkari has faced some justifiable criticism for this decision, since a member of his family runs an e-rickshaw manufacturing business. Yet in the absence of this conflict of interest, the direction of his decision was sensible - although it went too far. Somewhere in between is a sensible mean: to allow e-rickshaws, but properly regulate them. Currently, these vehicles can be bought for Rs 85, 000. If they were to meet the recently laid down norms, their price, according to one estimate, would go up to Rs 3 lakh. This would make them expensive. Naturally, that is not a sensible direction for regulation to take. Fears about safety should not be exaggerated - after all, such concerns are not expressed about cars, in spite of India's abysmal road-accident record. Certainly, the basic regulatory framework should be put in place: the vehicles should be registered, a specific driving licence devised and required, and an insurance structure worked out. (lucky auto treandz)
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