Delhi’s “tongawallahs” will on Monday take their last fares in the old city of India’s capital as the local authorities bring their centuries-long trade to an end in the interests of modernising the streets and easing traffic congestion.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has cancelled the licences of the city’s tongas – or single-horse or mule drawn carriages – in a bid to free the city from chronic traffic jams and is shutting down their downtown stables.
Its officials say the “old form of transport” has become a traffic hazard, and does not befit a modern motorised metropolis in one of the world’s fastest growing large economies.
Delhi, whose population is expected to rise to 21m within five years, has come late to a transformation well under way across the Himalayas.
In Beijing, and most of China’s rapidly growing and modernising cities, horse-drawn carts, motor-cycles, pedicabs and auto-rickshaws have been banned from the centre of town in the last decade. Ubiquitous armies of bicycles have been replaced with automobile gridlock.
The tonga, introduced in Mughal rule, had its heyday during British rule of India. Delhi was famous for its tonga trade, which plied passengers from the old walled city with the Red Fort, bazaars and Jama Masjid to the shops of Connaught Place and the white bungalow-lined roads of New Delhi.
Until now, 132 licensed tonga owners operated in the old city, ferrying people and goods to and from the tourist haunts of Chandni Chowk, Sadar Bazaar and Delhi Gate. Now they are being given financial assistance to buy three-wheeled transporters.
The move to shift them out of the city centre comes alongside an effort to spruce up New Delhi’s streets for the Commonwealth Games in October. During past months, the capital’s street architecture has been improved with central reservations, black and yellow markings, signs and even flashing cat’s eyes. Delhi has launched a metro and Connaught Place, the city’s equivalent of London’s Oxford Street, is undergoing a complete renovation to restore its earlier grandeur.
The government has awarded a €10m-€15m ($12m-$18m, £8.5m-£13m) traffic management tender to Siemens, the German engineering company, to alleviate gridlock among the city’s near-6m cars.
Armin Bruck, managing director of Mumbai-based Siemens Ltd, said his company was implementing a system to calibrate traffic lights to peak traffic load in time for the Commonwealth Games. A Rs3bn ($64m, €53m, £45m) tender to modernise fully the city’s traffic management will be decided next year.
Autorickshaws, green and yellow motorised three wheelers, may in time also go the way of horse-drawn transport. Much to the ire of autorickshaw unions, Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister, has said she is seeking alternative transport for commuters.
Chinese government officials who travel to India return to Beijing convinced of their nation’s superiority, bearing tales of shocking traffic jams, terrible roads and sub-standard infrastructure.
“You just have to drive on the road from the airport in any Indian city to know the governance in that country is terrible,” one senior Chinese official told the Financial Times. “We hope they can be successful, but the idea that India can compete with China is a complete joke.”
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