A clean, green, healthy Dhaka will happen with regulation of the internal combustion engine, not by condemning pedal-power. Let us get one thing straight. Rick shaws came first. Cars later. Cars kill. The rickshaw cannot. Rickshaws do not cause pollution. Cars do. Rickshaws take up less space. Cars more.
Unfortunately, where one stands depends on where one sits. The fact is that all the people in Dhaka who complain about the problem of rickshaws—the municipal authorities, the educated members of the public and typically, the foreigners— are invariably the ones who are seated behind tinted car windscreens, relaxing in air-conditioned comfort and, usually, hurrying to their self-important meetings. Thus, when stuck in a traffic jam caused by their own oversized vehicles, instead of seeing themselves as the cause of the problem, they blame the lowly rickshaw operators. Perhaps these self-centred folks should take a trip to Bangkok or Manila to experience the joys of cities where the car is king, but they might not be able to get back. Now, if one were to pull out a gun and fired it straight down Mirpur Road in Dhaka, would it be possible to blame the imminent death of an innocent passerby on his or her stupidity and lack of education? Yet, analogously, that is the argument made by many drivers who hurl curses at the unfortunate rickshaw-wallah who gels in the way of their speed fix.
Rickshaws have been plying the roads of Bangladesh since the mid-1930s. Today, there are easily over a million of them, serving the needs of the non-motorised urban population. Yet, because a select powerful few have the means to construct killing machines and charge them along small roads and highways, the rest of the population, the vast majority, are expected to make way.
The educated and privileged prefer the exhilaration of cruising down Manik Mia Avenue at double-digit miles per hour. Their exasperation knows no bounds when their acceleration is abruptly interrupted by a slow-moving rickshaw van plodding along with an overweight load of furniture. “Well, excuse me, madam, sorry if I´m moving too slowly for you, but I´ve been malnourished since birth and had only one meal yesterday and also not having received any education, I´m afraid 1 do not know the traffic rules here. So sorry, madam. Here, let me lose my hard-won momentum, pull over into the rough here, despite the additional physical exertion required to regain my pace, to let you pass by in your beautiful white Toyota. Have a good day, madam. Me and my fellow lumpen proletarians must respect your road and your vehicle.”
It is a given that the cities of Bangladesh will modernise. How they modernise, however, is up to its people and the city authorities. Other great cities have already come full circle and are trying hard to curtail the proliferation of pollution-emitting motor transportation and are encouraging ecologically sound alternatives. Envisage a not-too-futuristic Dhaka where the core segments of downtown are green zones, completely out of bounds to cars, with service vehicles confined to loading zones. Rickshaws, pedestrians and bicycles move around freely.
Those who travelled merrily through the city during the Non-Cooperation Movement will recall with pleasure the freshness and peacefulness of a Dhaka without noise and air pollution. Yes, the number of rickshaws will have to be regulated, but not as a trade-off for more cars. Manual modes of transportation can be concentrated in some areas and motor-transportation in others, with linking hubs where people transfer from buses or cars to rickshaws.
The first step towards a clean, green and healthy Dhaka lies not in the regulation of rickshaws (which is what everyone seems to be after), but in the restrictions on cars and other motorised vehicles, and planning for controlled road use. Only in this manner can “win-win” solutions be found to the traffic problem, rather than the “rich-win” solutions often suggested by many of those in the driver´s seat.