According to reports, the climate adaptation wing of WWF-India is currently working on a pilot project to transform van rickshaws, a highly polluting and illegal commuter and goods carrier popularly used in semi-urban and rural Bengal, into an environment-friendly and legitimate mode of transport.
“We are working towards a viable alternative to the mechanized van rickshaws that currently run on diesel and kerosene and are extremely polluting. Battery operated electric van rickshaws have already undergone road trials for a year. They are both versatile and viable.
The results are extremely encouraging,” WWF-India climate adaptation programme (head) Anurag Danda told TOI. The NGO has approached the state transport department with the data and urged it to consider floating of a programme that will encourage conversion to battery-operated van rickshaws in the Sunderbans where it is the only mode of transport on land. The transport department has promptly referred it to a committee at Jadavpur University for studies to validate the data submitted by WWF-India.
The vans use 60 volt batteries that will connect to a motor generating 3.5 horse power, enough to do most of the varied uses that the mish-mash contraption is put into at present. While the test vehicles are being charged using conventional electricity, Danda said solar energy can also be used. “We are installing a dedicated solar unit for charging. As recently as this weekend, a senior official of Exide Industries, India’s leading battery manufacturer, visited the Sunderbans and reviewed the project, suggesting alternative batteries for better performance. “Each island in the Sunderbans has 2,000-odd van rickshaws. So the eight major inhabited islands have around 16,000 vehicles.
We are trying to develop a concept that offers a safe, viable, legal and reliable alternative,” said Danda. Aware that the only way change can happen is by ensuring that the electric vehicles are reliable and viable, extensive tests were carried out for a year. While the vehicles were found to be as reliable as the ones in use, they were five-times more economical to operate. “At present, an average van rickshaw operator uses fuel worth Rs 200 a day. The per day operation cost of electric vehicles is Rs 40. This leads to a saving of Rs 3,000-4,000 a month or around Rs 72,000 in two years. Even if batteries are replaced in two years, that will cost Rs 50,000, leaving the owner with additional Rs 22,000,” Danda added.