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By Biplob LohoChoudhury
By Biplob LohoChoudhury

TOTO, the battery driven three-wheeler, has been maligned much for trespassing into the roads of Bengal.

Until the Supreme Court ruled in March this year that the Toto too would be under the regulatory framework of laws that govern all other motorised vehicles plying on roads, confusion was widespread as to how to deal with a Toto in the event of a traffic violation or an accident.

In the light of this, there is a need to have a relook at Toto, which is primarily a youth driven initiative. Not so new, almost two years on road, it has caused a silent revolution in the districts from Malda to Howrah and so on. This is both in terms of transportation and income generation.

A recent case study in Bolpur, a town of around 80,000-odd people, revealed that there are around 800 Totos on the road here and the count is increasing by the day.

A chat with eighty Toto operators, 20 passengers and a few investors who are into Toto renting business, signals at its potential as a sustainable development instrument on four counts.

First, the ever expanding urban centres in Bengal need good connectivity in towns and a clean environment. The towns need to be well connected with the villages around and thus, they need non-polluting passenger carriers.

A few years ago, Bengal government mulled introducing Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) over petrol and diesel for the auto rickshaws in the districts. Autos is Kolkata have been running on LPG for the past several years.

The government move was aimed at bringing down the air pollution in the small towns and developed villages. But the idea received a lukewarm response from auto rickshaw drivers and owners.

And here comes the utility of Toto, which is built on simple technology and at a comparatively low cost. It transports people and goods within small distance with a speed below 25 km an hour and causes no air pollution.  

Second, there would be hardly anyone who doesn’t agree that the next phase of development in Bengal should be driven by lesser volume of hydrocarbon energy. Experiments and pilot studies for battery and solar cell driven vehicles were many in the last few years. But Toto is the first in the line that has proved highly successful on Bengal roads.

The Bolpur case study shows both new and old operators are opting for Toto over the petrol or diesel driven commercial vehicles. In a town with about 1,200 licensed manual rickshaws and 125 auto rickshaws even one year ago, the scenario is changing very fast.

Now add to this a solar panel fitted version of Toto that has been developed by the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur, Howrah. This means, a shift from hydrocarbon-generated electricity to solar power is not a very difficult one to make.

Third, self-reliance is a key factor in the ambition for development. It implies citizens’ participation in decision making, harnessing own resources and making best out of the available appropriate technology.

In case of Toto, the operators and small investors are themselves deciding to buy it without being prodded by the government or any authority.

The simple technology of Toto facilitates recharging the battery at a low cost and without any health hazard. Low maintenance cost and a price ranging between Rs 90,000 to 1 lakh are the two other key factors why the operators are choosing Toto.

This much of investment is not very difficult for an average household to make ~ from savings or small loans from banks.

Fourth, the earning from a Toto is not less than Rs 10,000 a month. Thus it is translating poor peoples’ dream of a better life into reality and the obvious outcome of this, over time, will be an improve living standard, family health and nutrition.

Given all these advantages that the Toto offers, Bengal government should frame simple and customised rules to regulate this wonder vehicle and embolden the silent economic revolution in the smaller urban pockets and villages in the state.

There is a need to limit the number of Toto on the principles of population and route ration to ensure that their per unit income potential does not decrease and road traffic is maintained properly. Also the number of passengers that a Toto should carry must also be fixed and enforced strictly from both safety and economic point of view.

Once the government does this, it would be indeed a blessing for toto Bengalis.

(Biplob LohoChoudhury is a professor of journalism at Visva-Bharati. He lives in Santiniketan, Birbhum. Click here to read his previous articles.)

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