They come handy to 60 percent of city dwellers of the capital by providing a relatively cheap mode of transport. Admittedly, they are the main cause of traffic gridlock in Dhaka and there is a huge gap in the official number of licensed rickshaws, a hundred thousand, and the actual estimated figure, which is nearly ten times that.
Perhaps it may be a good time to consider restricting their number in the city. But that would not be possible unless the syndicate that issues fake license plates, reportedly costing Tk 15,000 each and renewed every three months at a high fee, is busted. There is a need to find out if there is a nexus between the syndicate and the municipal authorities that make this possible. This practice has been going on since the municipal authorities stopped issuing license from the 1980s. While there are compelling grounds for limiting the number of rickshaws, the authorities need to consider the fate of the nearly one and a half million rickshaw-pullers and the sustenance of their dependents should that happen. The government should consider providing alternative sources of income for those rickshaw-pullers who would find themselves without a source of income.
While that is one aspect of the issue, the other aspect is the interest of a community that is entirely at the mercy of almost everyone, harassment from the police being the major peril they face every moment and of the owners and the passengers. In this regard, suggestions of the speakers at a roundtable, organised to deliberate on a study by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies on the state of rickshaw-pullers in Dhaka city, merit due consideration. One of the suggestions was to bring them under social safety net programme besides giving them proper training and catering for their housing and rehabilitation. It is also worth considering whether the current rickshaws could be modified to require less human power to be driven, thereby mitigating its physical impact on the puller.