Letters from India No 7

´Letters from India´ is a fortnightly brief written by Finnish exchange activists participating in the Lokayan - Kepa co-operation programme. The ´Letters´ are circulated primarily among the staff of the organisations and members of the groups responsible for the joint activities, ie. Lokayan´s Global Responsibility Forum - Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and Kepa´s India Group.
Piia Saari


DELHI -- The theme of this time is the non-motorised transport, which is one of the main issues Lokayan is working with in Delhi. I visited some rickshaw shops in Delhi and had a chance to speak with Mr.G. Shayam And Ms.Priti Priyadarshni, who work in a Cycle Rickshaw Improvement Project in Agra. I also discussed the issues with Lokayan's convenor Mr. Rajendra Ravi, who concentrates in this topic. The highlights describe a meeting in Orcha, near Jhasi organised by PPST (People's Patriotic Science and Technology), which focuses on reviving traditional, people-oriented technologies in India. Also visit to a textile factory in Tukhlagabad, Delhi will be mentioned. The political situation after the fall of BJP government and the geographical realities of Delhi are the topics of the last section.

I will complete my stay in Delhi on 30th April and return to my work in the Fair Trade Shop of The Swallows in Northern Finland, Oulu and keep in touch with Lokayan and Kepa's India group as much as possible. A concluding report describing the experiences and thoughts about the program will be prepared soon and sent to both organisations.

I want to tell my special thanks to all the people at Lokayan and the relatives of Vijay Pratap for their kindness and hospitality at all occasions, which made the three month stay in Delhi a very memorable and pleasant experience. Also special thanks to Rita Nahata and Rajendra Ravi's family for their nice company and the help in my work.

Theme: non-motorised vechiles as a means of transport

Pollution, congestion and traffic fatality are alarming in Indian cities, for example Delhi is one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and the traffic fatality in Delhi is more than double that of all other major Indian cities combined. Delhi has about 1% population of India , but as much as 10% of country's motor vehicles. It is estimated that about 70% of the pollution in Delhi comes from the traffic. However, the non-motorised transport still remains very important in most Indian cities (and even more in the countryside), especially for the poorer sector of society. This constitutes pedestrians, bicycles, rickshaws and animal drawn vehicles. The road planners, engineers and politicians have neglected, and even looked down upon the development of this mode of transportation, though it is non-polluting, occupies much less road space and needs less infrastructure than motorised vehicles. Non-motorised vehicles have been labelled backward, merely because these are not common in the west and are patronized more by the poorer majority of the people. The environment-friendly road users have not been given recognition and their life and profession remains unsafe and inconvenient in the middle of motorised vehicles.

One aspect of the transport is energy consumption. In non-motorised mode human energy is used, where as the motorised transport uses imported petroleum, which largely contributes to the financial-strategic independence on petroleum. Over 35% of India's petroleum consumption is in transport sector. The increase of motorised transport has also risen the amount of imported petroleum and set the Indian economy under a stress and dependence on crude oil prices. Besides environmental problems, the motorised vehicles also contribute to congestion, noise and insecurity in the roads.

Cycle rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians The cycle rickshaw was first invented and used in Japan in the end of 19th century, and the word rickshaw comes from a Japanese word Jinn Rake Shaw, meaning literally a hand-powered vehicle. The cycle rickshaw spread rapidly in the Indian cities in 1930s and 1940s, first in Calcutta. Nowadays, in Delhi over 50% of the journeys are estimated to be shorter than 5 km, which means that bicycles and rickshaws have a great importance in transportation, both for persons and for goods. It has been estimated that the proportion of cycle traffic is more than 30% of the total traffic in the peak hours on many arterial roads and even on highways. A large number of people have no other choices than cycling or walking, because approximately 28% of the households in Delhi have a monthly income of less than 2000 rupees and not many households can spend more than 10% of the income on transport.

New rickshaw models As rickshaw puller's occupation does not require training, the immigrants from rural areas take the occupation to pedal cycle-rickshaws in urban or semi-urban areas. The most immigrant rickshaw pullers come from Bihar, Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Tripura, Tamil Nadu and even Bangladesh.

Traditionally the rickshaw designs vary considerably from one part of India to the other. Bicycles, being an industrial product, have been improving in design and technology, but the design of cycle rickshaws has remained stagnant, inefficient and wasteful in the use of human energy. The main deficiencies include inefficient brakes, single gear, poor suspension, high weight of the rickshaw and uncomfortable seats for passengers and the puller.

However, at the moment industrial designers are modelling new cycle rickshaws as a part of the Agra City Rickshaw Improvement Project. This is a joint effort of AITD (Asian Institute of Transport Development), ITDP (the New York based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) and IITD (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi). The idea was to remove all kinds of motorised traffic and find an ecologically sustainable mode of transport. Agra is said to be one of the most polluted cities in India and the concern for the historical monuments, especially Taj Mahal, has made some headway in the pollution control.

I met Mr.G. Shayam And Ms.Priti Priyadarshni from the Cycle Rickshaw Improvement Project in Delhi on 21st April and we went to some rickshaw shops to show pictures of the new rickshaw models to the rickshaw shopkeepers and pullers. It was interesting to observe the reactions: the curiosity and prejudices about the new models, their shape, price, availability of spare parts etc. Some shopkeepers were interested, and maybe after seeing and testing one new rickshaw model, also the pullers might get interested; at least Mr. G. Shayam tells that "The new model is half of the weight of the traditional one, sturdier, has gear and a comfortable seat for the passengers, and besides, the price is about 4000 rupees, equal to the classical model".

Lokayan and People's Transport Policy Lokayan has been addressing social and political issues, which concern the marginalised and discriminated populations of India, rickshaw pullers being one of them. There is a working group called "Jan Parivahan Panchayat" (An organisation of Rickshaws, Cyclists and Pedestrians) in Lokayan. Mr. Rajendra Ravi tells that the work with rickshaw pullers started about 3-4 years ago. In the beginning Lokayan organised meetings with the rickshaw people and tried to understand their problems. There were many problems, because some people thought these meetings were against rickshaw owners and they did not want to attend. Slowly Lokayan succeeded widening the network of different rickshaw related people (pullers, owners, technicians) to policy makers and city planners. A very successful meeting was organised for all these groups and the issue of rickshaws got a lot of publicity in media in October 1998. After that people got more interested. The cooperation with "Indian Institute of Technology New Delhi" has also been very valuable, because it has made research on transport issues and also prepared a "Bicycle Master Plan for Delhi", which Lokayan wants to support. Lokayan is actively trying to handle the issue on many levels, also in policy making. Lokayan has made a "People's Transport Policy for Delhi", where a lot of practical points concerning the recognition of non-motorised transport, separate lanes for pedestrians and cycles/cycle rickshaws, safe crossovers, parking and rickshaw stand facilities, licensing of rickshaws etc. are raised. "In the future we want to deal with these issues also, as well as other social issues of rickshaw pullers, maybe form a cooperative and later spread to other places around Delhi. But not too fast, with little steps so that we can be sustainable", explains Rajendra Ravi and welcomes anyone interested in these issues to contact him in Lokayan (address is mentioned below).

Highlights from the fortnight


It happened that I got an ameba in my stomach just before the seminar day, so my experiences of the whole thing are near to zero. I lied and slept while the others spoke in Hindi and after recovering from the disease, I have been so busy with the last day preparations before leaving for Finland that I have had no time to ask anyone what was discussed in the seminar...


It was very interesting to visit a factory, because till now I had only seen artisans working at their homes or in smaller companies or NGOs. I had not actually seen a place where the textiles are produced in bulk and then exported to foreign countries. I visited a place called Vimal Exim Inc. in Tukhlagabad, Delhi where they make mostly women's garments to department stores in USA. The different phases of work were clearly separated and every worker was specialising in one thing. For example there were several stages (and people) in finishing the garments, several in ironing etc. The salaries were calculated according to the amount of work the people do and they were approximately 3000 Rupees/month. This is more than in many NGOs that I know. The workers told what kind of benefits they get from the owner: some snacks every day and gifts on special occasions. The director Vimal Rathi said that the owner is at the mercy of the workers, not the opposite way. She says that the workers are professional and skilled, many of them Bihari Muslims and if they do not earn enough, they will go somewhere else. "If I have an order to make and the people go, what shall I do? It is not easy to find skilled people and also training takes time. We want to keep our workers here", he says.



The political turmoil in Indian government has been the central topic of discussion for Indians the last few weeks. The government that was formed in December 1997, led by the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, the party for Hindu nationalists) has come to its end, as the other government party, the AIADMK (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, tamil nationalist party) withdrew support to the coalition government. There were about 15 parties forming the coalition government. On 14th April the AIADMK leader, Ms. Jayalalitha submitted a letter to the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan stating the withdrawal of support by her party to the government led by Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. The second biggest party in India, after BJP is Congress Party, led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. On 17th April Vajpayee government lost the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha by one vote and resigned - and now the new government is under preparation. There will be midterm poll in the summer.


The natural geographical conditions have been rather interesting in Delhi for a Geographer like me for the last one month: the warming up of the temperatures has been abrupt and the tremors have rocked the earth all around North India for weeks. These conditions have caused trouble and even fear among the inhabitants of the capital, not to mention the districts of Chamoli in Northern Uttar Pradesh that has suffered from the most serious quakes, or Rajasthan where the heat has gone amazingly high at this time of the year.

I knew that I am a sound sleeper, but did not have an idea that I would be so sound a sleeper that I would almost not wake up to an earthquake of 6.8 on Richter scale and would read about it from the newspaper the next morning. In the night of 28th March I did wake up to the tremors, but still drowsy I thought the neighbour's car must undergo exceptionally bad problems this time or perhaps I had something wrong with my head! Immediately falling back asleep again I remained happily innocent of the panicking neighbours rushing away from their apartments and staying at the lawn outside the house. The nearby houses had developed some cracks in the walls - our "Maitri Apartments" stood totally intact as if nothing had happened. Only in the morning I had my shock, as Vijay Pratap from Lokayan explained me the night happenings in the phone.

The heat, on the other hand, cannot be escaped even by a sound sleep. The thermometer going up to +43 in the day assures good sales to the fan, air cooler, refrigerator, cool drink and air condition companies. The drought has affected the life of millions of people in Delhi itself, as the capital struggles under the insufficient water supply from the rivers. "Water crisis" meaning no water from the tap is a common phenomenon in the residential areas and can last for weeks. To my continuous perspiration and drinking only slight comfort is expressed: "This is not so bad yet, wait for May-June, then it is really hot!" I sigh of relief, as in May-June I will be again in Finland. 24 hours in sauna a day loses its charm quite quickly!