Although illegal, several thousand battery-run rickshaws are running in the capital at the behest of some Sramik League leaders and their aides in the name of associations.
Owners of these rickshaws allegedly pay a share of their income to those leaders and their sidekicks. In exchange, the leaders of Sramik League, associate labour body of the ruling Awami League, provide the owners with token licence for the rickshaws.
The government in May last year imposed a ban on manufacturing and importing of battery-run three-wheelers to save electricity.
The ban was slapped, as around 2.4 lakh battery-run three-wheelers were consuming more than 216 megawatt of electricity every day, at a time when the country was suffering from severe power shortage.
These banned vehicles are now seen operating in the capital, especially in Mirpur and Pallabi areas, in front of the very eyes of traffic police.
A number of rickshaw drivers alleged that the leaders of Sramik League or the owners' association have a monthly arrangement with the traffic department for the service.
To make a battery-run rickshaw all one needs is to install four 12-volt batteries and a motor. On the handle bar there needs to be a switch to run the motor while the rickshaw can also be pulled manually if needed and when the batteries burn out.
Many workshops in Mirpur are manufacturing these motorised tri-cycles, each costing around Tk 65,000-85,000, subject to variety of batteries and motors.
“These motorised vehicles, which can run 45 kilometres per hour, almost four times faster than a manual rickshaw, lack all attributes required for being mechanically fit. Moreover, the centre of gravity of theses tri-cycles is on the upper portion. So, its degree of exposure to and severity and frequency of accidents are very high,” said Prof Shamsul Haque, former chief of the accident research centre at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Drivers said several accidents had already happened and some passengers suffered critical injuries.
There is no exact number of motorised rickshaws running in the capital and its outskirts.
According to Ibrahim Badal, president of Mirpur Sramik League unit, several thousand of such vehicles are in operation. He alleged that some criminals in the name of different auto-rickshaw owners' associations were running around 1,500 motorised rickshaws in Mirpur and Pallabi alone.
Sources in police and motor workshops said apart from Ibrahim Badal; Shafiq, Kamal, Mujibur and Langra Shahid also issue token licences inscribed with their initials and mobile phone numbers.
Once, all of them used to work with Badal, but now they have started their own token business with the blessings from the police, said the sources.
Abul Kashem, who operates a motorised rickshaw in Mirpur area, said he had to pay Tk 300 every day to the owner. He also alleged that the owner paid Badal around Tk 600 per month to manage the police.
Asked about recharging the batteries, he said his owner had to pay an additional amount of Tk 700 per month for that.
Another rickshaw driver Shahabuddin said, “Police sometimes stops us, but when we flash the token licence they let us go.”
Assistant Commissioner (Traffic) of Mirpur Zone Tareq Ahmed denied the allegations. He claimed that sometimes such rickshaws ran on alleys and side streets, and traffic police seized them every day.
The deputy chief revenue officer of Dhaka City Corporation who looks after rickshaw related issues said the battery-run rickshaws were completely banned and that he had no knowledge of such rickshaws being plied in Mirpur and Pallabi.