Solar rickshaws to help solve India's pollution woes



Solar rickshaw

Chief Minister of New Delhi, Sheila Dikshit and Minister of Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal ride in the new solar-electric rickshaw, "Soleckshaw" after its launch in New Delhi.

Credit: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana

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NEW DELHI: It's been touted as a solution to urban India's traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil.

A state-of-the-art, solar powered version of the humble cycle-rickshaw promises to deliver on all this and more.

The "soleckshaw," unveiled this month in New Delhi, is a motorised cycle rickshaw that can be pedalled normally or run on a 36-volt solar battery.

Developed by the state-run Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), prototypes are receiving a baptism of fire by being road-tested in Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk area.

One of the city's oldest and busiest markets, dating back to the Moghul era, Chandni Chowk comprises a byzantine maze of narrow, winding streets, choked with buses, cars, scooters, cyclists and brave pedestrians.

"The most important achievement will be improving the lot of rickshaw drivers," said Pradip Kumar Sarmah, head of the non-profit Centre for Rural Development.

"It will dignify the job and reduce the labour of pedalling. From rickshaw pullers, they will become rickshaw drivers," Sarmah said.

India has an estimated eight million cycle-rickshaws.

The makeover includes FM radios and powerpoints for charging mobile phones during rides.

Gone are the flimsy metal and wooden frames that give the regular Delhi rickshaws a tacky, sometimes dubious look.

The "soleckshaw," which has a top speed of 15 kilometres per hour, has a sturdier frame and sprung, foam seats for up to three people.

The fully-charged solar battery will power the rickshaw for 50 to 70 kilometres. Used batteries can be deposited at a centralised solar-powered charging station and replaced for a nominal fee.

If the tests go well, the "soleckshaw" will be a key transport link between sporting venues at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

"Rickshaws were always environment-friendly. Now this gives a totally new image that would be more acceptable to the middle-classes," said Anumita Roychoudhary of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

"Rickshaws have to be seen as a part of the solution for modern traffic woes and pollution. They have never been the problem. The problem is the proliferation of automobiles using fossil fuels," she said.