Kapil Sharma is a middle aged labour who like numerous other Nepalese returned back from Qatar after his health was adversely affected due to the working conditions there. He invested his hard earned money to buy an electric rickshaw so that he could earn a living by staying with his family. After he had brought the rickshaw he was aghast to find that the Municipality of Biratnagar had unilaterally fixed a quota for the number of electric rickshaws. So he could never get his electric rickshaw registered. Soon he was regularly bullied by the traffic police and many times he had to pay large amount as bribes. Like many others he had to drive hiding from the police so that he could pay his loan installments on time. There are several such stories in Biratnagar.
Sustainable Development goals became a buzz word for the developing countries for a long time now. Many projects have been sanctioned and many regulations passed to curb on the greenhouse gas emission. One of the more suitable means to achieve this aim are the electric Rickshaws. These three wheeler have become a popular alternative to the fuel guzzling Auto Rickshaws in India and Nepal and since their introduction in 2013, have become immensely popular in plain areas of Nepal. Ironically, instead of promoting electric rickshaws, the government introduced new regulatory hurdles like fixed quota systems to curb their growing numbers. Bikalpa an Alternative conducted a case study on the issue over the legitimacy and rationality of the government’s decision to limit the number of city rickshaw just 300 when there were already over 1000 such rickshaws plying on the streets of Biratnagar, thus forcing them to be part of the grey economy.
The report highlighted the opportunities provided by the electric rickshaws to the local population and also how it was a green alternative to the petroleum powered vehicles. It also concluded that over 1500 electric rickshaws that were plying on the streets were serving over 50000 customers every day. The cost of transportation from the Mahendra Chowk (city centre) to the Indian border had reduced drastically from over Rs. 100 to just Rs. 30. This had also provided direct jobs to over 1500 individual people and sustained their family. Around 6000 people were dependent on the earning that came from electronic rickshaws. The economic impact of electric rickshaw is huge. But the lacklustre approach of the government to come up with concrete policy was lacking. From Licensing, to registering and operating electric rickshaw, the government hasn’t been able to frame any kind of feasible policy for the electric rickshaw. Realizing that open and competitive market is the only solution to regulation and all forms of barrier to entry policies, Bikalpa conducted a research to propose market based solution to the local authorities.
To highlight the issues, Bikalpa an Alternative conducted a series of discussions and regularly raised the issue on online, television and print media. Also the short video was made to cover the issue and sensitize people. Some organizations (especially E-rickshaw dealers, drivers and their union) showed their solidarity for the cause. After conducting series of lobbying and public outreach through various means, on 26th May 2016, Biratnagar Municipality finally opened the registration for all city rickshaws that was plying on the street of Biratnagar. That decision allowed 1665 more e-rickshaws to register and secure legality, which will help to ease life of low income e-rickshaw drivers. However there are still various regulatory hurdles (like license and route permit) and policy paralysis, which can cause other problems to this nascent industry in near future. There is a need for a concrete policy to encourage such new technologies to enter the market. And with an aim to protect economic freedom and insure livelihood is not affected by government policies. Bikalpa is carrying out further research on framing a better policy recommendation for electric vehicle management in the city of Biratnagar.