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Mahfuz Sadique on the unabated miseries of lives lived off three wheels, on May Day

Served only by unyielding lender-funded rehabilitation projects and government indifference, the rickshaw pullers of the capital are enduring unabated economic stagnation as their profession is provided no protection by the laws of the state.
While the major issue of contention for the pullers remain the World Bank-initiated drive to restrict movement of rickshaws on major roads of the capital under the Dhaka Urban Transport Project, rehabilitation is only coming as a stopgap solution to the growing disquiet among the large populace of pullers as their already marginal incomes suffer further severe downturn.
Although a $7.5 million rehabilitation project for rickshaw pullers is on the cards this month as a mitigation measure for pullers suffering due to the phase-out of rickshaws from Mirpur Road between Kalabagaan and Azimpur, the project is dogged with scepticism as there exists no specific record of the pullers in the capital.
The Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation is marked to receive the ‘soft loan’ from the World Bank, an official at the Dhaka Transport Coordination Board said. The fund will be used to relocate pullers outside of Dhaka and to provide ‘targeted skills development’ termed as social assistance.
‘We have been requesting a comprehensive count of the total number of pullers which can be found only through a broad-based study. But we have had no response,’ Insur Ali, member secretary of Rickshaw Van Sramik Malik Sangram Parishad, told New Age on Saturday.
The lack of stakeholders’ participation — in this case the rickshaw pullers and owners — has led to further concerns that the final implementation will not reach the intended group.
Termed as an unskilled labourer, the approximately several hundred thousand pullers working in the capital, some permanently and most seasonally, have been largely ignored in terms of a permanent solution to their unskilled state.
In all the years that the number of rickshaw pullers has been increasing alarmingly due to multifarious reasons, mainly in the country’s rural belt, the government has taken no initiative to rehabilitate or relocate them.
Further adding to the problem is the fact that the pullers of the city do not have any collective platform to voice their demands. Several dozen unions exist in the capital aligned towards the major political parties.
The state also has no specific labour law pertaining to rickshaw pullers. ‘Though they (rickshaw pullers) fall under a legal explanation interpreted under the Master and Servants Relationship Act which puts the owner of the rickshaws as the master and the pullers as the servant, there are no labour laws that directly address their complaints,’ Adilur Rahman Khan, a deputy attorney general, told New Age on Friday.
‘Their only respite is Article 31 of the constitution which ensures the right to life. But that is a fundamental right for all citizens of Bangladesh,’ Adilur added.
With no specific labour law protecting the rights of rickshaw pullers, and rehabilitation projects not soliciting their opinions, the fate of the livelihood of hundreds and thousands of rickshaw pullers hangs by the thread as more roads of the capital are scheduled to be restricted to access by rickshaws.

Published: The New Age/ May Day, 2005

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