Kolkata ends hand-led rickshaws

Indian state wants to improve global image

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 Posted: 0223 GMT (1023 HKT)

Kolkata hand rickshaw

Authorities in West Bengal state say the hand-pulled rickshaw, such as this one in Calcutta, is not part of Indian tradition.

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) -- Communist authorities in India's eastern city of Kolkata said on Monday they would ban hand-pulled rickshaws, calling the popular century-old transport "inhumane."

The chief minister of communist-run West Bengal state, of which Kolkata is the capital, said the plan to phase out the city's 10,000 hand-pulled rickshaws was part of wider campaign to improve its poor global image.

"Westerners try to associate beggars and these rickshaws with Kolkata tradition, but this is not our tradition," Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters, adding that the ban would come into effect within five months.

Chinese traders introduced the hand-pulled rickshaw to Kolkata in the early 20th century and sinewy, barefoot men pulling the vehicles are are still a common sight in the city.

They are in especially great demand during the monsoon when flooded streets make it hard for commuters to use taxis or cars.

China banned hand-pulled rickshaws after the communists took power in 1949 and Kolkata is one of the only places left in the world where such rickshaws are used as everyday transport.

Officials in Kolkata said they would look into replacing the hand-pulled rickshaws with motorized three-wheel versions or bicycle rickshaws, but did not detail how this would be financed.

Mohammad Aslam of the All Bengal Rickshaw Pullers Union, the leading union of rickshaw pullers in the city, said it was not opposed to the move as long as jobs were not lost.

"We hope the government will make suitable arrangements and thousands of people who are involved with this trade are not left in the lurch," he said.

In the past few years, Kolkata -- best known for its poverty and the charity works of Mother Teresa -- has emerged as a new information technology and outsourcing hub, with swanky restaurants, shopping malls and coffee bars springing up.

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