by Bharat Kumar
“I’m living on banana from last couple of days. I just hope I get to manage enough money to return my home town and then I’ll leave this profession forever,” says Niranjan Nayak who has been toiling cycle rickshaw for last 35 years in the temple city. Niranjan was 12 years old when his father passed away and he came to Bhubaneswar to earn and support his family. But with the changing time, auto rickshaws have taken over the space for cheap transport in the city, leaving little scope for people like Niranjan.
Unlike neighbouring heritage towns, Cuttack and Puri, the state capital is a planned city and has less number of narrow streets. Auto rickshaws can move almost everywhere across the city. This is why the number of auto rickshaws has grown drastically over last decade. There was a time when more than a thousand cycle rickshaws served the state capital. But the throat cut competition from auto rickshaws’ has left them helpless.
“Today everyone is busy. They want to save their time and we, being human, have our limits. We can’t compete with them” said Niranjan. “Some generous young people like you” he said, “to save the environment or to rescue us from starvation, hire us. Like beggars, we have to depend upon people’s charity.”
Niranjan, the father of three, has his family in his native town Nayagarh. He somehow manages to feed his family but lives godforsaken life. He doesn’t get enough food, sleeps on footpath and keep working every day. Whether during rain or cold, or scorching heat, he has no option but to keep working. At the end of a tiring day he has to pay rent to the rickshaw owner.
“The government could have provided us a rickshaw at least. Had they done that, we wouldn’t have to be exploited by rickshaw owners.” he said. “They are distributing laptops, umbrellas and blankets. Who cares about us?”
The number of rickshaw pullers has diminished to around 50 in the town. Of course situation is better in Cuttack and Puri where their number stands in hundreds. In Puri several goverment and non government organizations have came forward to promote solar-rickshaw and e-rickshaw services. They have their unions as well. But in case of Bhubaneswar the era of cycle-rickshaws is almost over.