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The hand-pulled rickshaw is as much a symbol of Calcutta, India as is the surfboard for Southern California. By next year however, this could all be changing, thanks to a decree by an Indian minister and the use of jute-based bio-composites.
(Published on March 2006 – JEC Magazine #23)
Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee believes hand-pulled rickshaws are inhumane and represent the oppression and poverty that Indians have had to endure for hundreds of years. He has vowed to get the rickshaw off the streets by 2006, and this may be more possible than ever before thanks to an engineer and professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati (IIT).
IIT design engineer Amarendra Das has created a tricycle rickshaw that is, in many ways, a combination of cycle rickshaw and light automobile. What he calls the ‘Dipbahan’ hit the Bengal market in January and, depending on the results, could be mass-marketed throughout the year.
Rolling around on composites
The jute composite materials used on the Dipbahan were designed and developed through a joint effort by the IIT and the Indian Jute Industries Research Association (IJIRA).
The Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, India (IITG) was founded in 1995 and is one of the newest members of the IIT system.
Other IIT institutes are located around India in Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Roorkee and Kharagpur. The IITG offers eleven departments covering most major engineering and scientific studies.
Since its beginning, it has built up its infrastructure to the point where, today, advanced research can be undertaken with the Institute’s state-of-the-art engineering and science instruments.
Mr Das explained, “Jute non-woven fabrics are bonded with polyester resin using a cold moulding process. This is to take advantage of the bio-composite, which offers good thermal insulation and a natural feeling. This is also an effort to diversify jute into non-conventional applications.”
Two versions of the new rickshaw will be available. The more basic one costs 9,000 Rs (€167) and is made from the traditional tarpaulin and aluminium. The second is made from rustproof jute composites and costs 12,000 Rs (€223).
A hand-pulled rickshaw usually has a price tag of 7,000 Rs (€130), meaning that the new design is not much more expensive, but is infinitely more comfortable for the driver. Mr Das adds that the design has more legroom and luggage space along with its stronger and safer frame.
Spreading throughout the country
The Indien government has been very supportive of the new rickshaw, going so far as to offer rickshaw drivers a 5,000 Rs (€92) subsidy to help them switch to the Dipbahan. In Mr Das’ home state of Assam there are already 500 Dipbahans in use, with another 100 set to hit the streets this month.
One reason for the government’s support, apart from a desire to abolish a symbol of oppression, is the environmental benefit. The composite-made tricycle rickshaws will cut down India’s carbon emissions, as fewer people will use cars. Pollution is a major problem in urban India, but the situation could improve with the Dipbahan.