-The Economic Times
It was just a ride in a cycle rickshaw that moved an Assam based veterinary surgeon, Dr Pradip Kumar Sarmah and got him thinking into setting up the concept of 'Rickshaw Bank'. The concept today has changed the lives of more than 10000 rickshaw pullers in six states in India.
Dr Pradip Kumar Sarmah (47), the innovator of this concept, explained that majority of the rickshaw pullers drive rented rickshaws as they have no access to banks and end paying the cost of the rickshaw many times over.
"Once when I traveling by one such rickshaw in Guwahati, I struck a conversation with the rickshaw puller, who told me that even after 16 years, he did not own his vehicle and hired the rickshaw at a daily rate of Rs 25. After paying the rent, the man was left with barely Rs 50. I was disturbed with the story of the person as with the rent he had paid, he could have owned the rickshaw many times over," he said.
Sarmah informed that after surveying about 300 rickshaw-pullers in Guwahati, he found that over 95 per cent shared similar plight. He pointed out that there are about 70,000 rickshaws in Guwahati, and over ten million rickshaws in India.
"In India, Banks provide loans for purchasing any kind of vehicle except a cycle rickshaw. The common reason was that most of the pullers were migrants," he said.
It took in nearly a year and half for Sarmah to come with a solution to help in the rickshaw pullers as paucity of funds was the major issue.
He informed that during his student days at the Assam Agricultural University, they had raised money for journals from companies by getting advertisements
"We decided to go for a similar approach and decided that the rickshaws could display the company advertisements which could reach thousands of consumers. I had a friend in the IIT- Guwahati's design department, who designed a rickshaw with large exteriors which could display the company advertisements for us," he said.
They then approached a lot of companies and the response which they got was very good. "Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), Indian Oil Corporation ( IOC) and Hindustan Unilever Limited were the three companies which decided to sponsor for the advertisements. We received around Rs 7 lakhs from each of the companies which was around Rs 7000 per rickshaw for a period of 3 years," he said.
"Today even banks have come forward to help us out. We have replicated the project in other places too like Agartala, Surat and Chennai. In the last couple of years more than 6000 people have benefited from the Rickshaw bank project," he said.
"We even provide an insurance cover for Rs 9,000 for the rickshaw, Rs 50,000 for the driver against injury or death, and a third party insurance of Rs 10,000 each for the passengers. It also gives those uniform, shoes, licenses, a photo identity card and related training," he said.
Dr Sarmah informed that Centre for Rural Development (CRD), his Guwahati based non-government organization has different models in different states. "We have developed 7 to 8 different concepts like the 'Momo card', vegetable cart, and fast food cart based on the requirement in different states. The concept is the same, the pullers pay the rent and after a certain time frame the ownership is transferred," he said.
He informed that in Punjab, where they have initiated the concept, Punjab National Bank (PNB) has come out with its own scheme to finance rickshaws. "The concepts in different states are been implemented on a standalone basis with the help of local NGO's.
Speaking on his future plans, Sarmah informed that they have come out with a pilot concept called ' Soleckshaw'- which is a solar powered rickshaw in Delhi. "This was developed along with the Centre for Science and Research and would cost around Rs 30000. This concept once fully implemented would help in the reduction of pollution and also reduce the consumption of fuels like petrol and diesel," he said.
Sarmah, who was recently invited to present his case study to Harvard Business School and also MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), stated that financial rickshaw pullers could become a huge business opportunity.
"With nearly 10 million rickshaw pullers in the country and an average loan size of Rs 8000 to Rs 10000 per puller, imagine the magnitude of business any financial institution can generate though it," he added.