End of journey for Gwalior’s tongas

Drive autorickshaws, municipality tells horse-carriage operators
End of journey for Gwalior’s tongas

Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh is one of the few cities in India where horse-drawn carriages or tongas form a part of the public transport system. They ply on fixed routes. Many residents see them as part of the city’s cultural heritage, but the Gwalior municipality views them as obstructions in the path of fast-moving traffic.

So, it has decided to remove tongas from the city.

Deputy commissioner of the municipality, Suresh Bhadoria, said tongas move slowly and cause traffic jams.

Besides, the horses litter the roads with dung. The announcement to make Gwalior tonga- free was first made in October last year. Bhadoria said fresh notices will be issued to the tonga operators shortly.

To rehabilitate the tonga owners, the municipality has offered them autorickshaws on loan. Those buying the autorickshaws, costing Rs 2 lakh each, will have to pay monthly instalments of Rs 3,000 for the next 10 years or more. They can avail a Rs 40,000 subsidy when all instalments are paid.

EMIs too stiff

Tonga operators cried foul. “Even established autorickshaw drivers don’t earn more than Rs 250 a day and cannot afford this amount. If we agree to the scheme, a time would come when our autorickshaws will be seized and we will have to beg for a living,” said Ballu Khan, a tonga owner. Shahryar Mansoori’s problem is more complex. He has three tongas and five horses but will get loan to buy just one autorickshaw. “How will I recover the Rs 225,000 I have invested in the tonga business?” he asked.

The municipality has no alternative for hire-operators either; there are about 300 drivers who operate hired tongas as they don’t own one. “Over 1,000 families, including hire-operators, repairers, fodder sellers and service providers will be hit by the decision. We have complained to the municipality many times but there is no response,” said Vinod Chopra, secretary of the tonga operators’ union. He said the municipality has no plans to compensate them for the horses and carts either. “The officials suggested that we sell the carriages as scrap and release the horses in the forests,” said Chopra.

Autos, not tongas, cause snarls

Deputy commissioner Bhadoria said the operators were offered added incentives like bpl ration cards and old age pension. “But they are still not interested,” he admitted.

Municipal officials and Mayor Samiksha Gupta blamed the tongas for hampering traffic movement and said the operators should switch to plying autorickshaws that pay more. But Jagdeesh Shukla, reporter with a Gwalior daily, disagreed.

“The root cause of traffic problem is the simplified procedure for autorickshaw licensing,” he said. “The six-seater autorickshaws have increased more than three times from the initial 734, in five years. Worse, autorickshaws are allowed to ply on routes reserved for tongas and now the two have to vie for the same customers,” Shukla said.

Autorickshaw operators conceded there are too many six-seater autorickshaws or Vikrams. Basheer Bhai who has been plying a petrol-driven Vikram for 30 years said the new six-seaters have poached on the earnings of old auto-rickshaw owners as well as tonga operators. “There are more autorickshaws than commuters. Every vehicle plies half empty,” he said.

Albel Singh Goraia, president of the Gwalior tonga union, sees the municipality decision as a political conspiracy. He said most autorickshaw operators are with the bjp which is why the party, after coming to power in the state assseven years ago, gave away routes fixed for tongas to autorickshaw operators. Tongas became unprofitable.

Way out: tonga tour packages

Operators said a way out would be to reserve areas around monuments for tongas. “Gwalior has many tourist attractions. Tongas are eco-friendly and will add value to such places. Our incomes will also increase,” said Chopra. Tonga operators said 100 out of the 500 existing tongas can earn well from the Fort area alone. They said a proposal was sent to the municipality. Again, there was no response.

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