The town of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh takes its name after goddess Danteshwari, who is the presiding deity of the Danteshwari Temple located in the region.
With the same name comes a unique public transport system, Danteshwari Sewa, which will employ tribal women as ‘e-rickshaw’ drivers.
In one of the worst hit Naxal regions of the country, the initiative is a first, designed by Dantewada district administration to provide employment to tribal women from remote villages in the district.
Titled Dantewada Advanced Network of Transport Empowered SHG, the project has roped in close to 200 self-help groups (SHG) and will introduce public transport facility of e-rickshaws in the interior parts of the region and involve women who are members of these groups in the respective areas.
According to District Collector Saurabh Kumar and Zilla Panchayat chief executive officer Gaurav Singh, the first phase of the project is all set to be flagged off by chief minister Raman Singh where over 51 e-rickshaws will be handed over to SHG members. The service is slated for expansion to other villages in a phased manner.
Being quite cut off, most villagers in the region had to travel by foot for many kilometres to even reach the main road from where they could board a bus. With the launch of the service, this toil will be eliminated.
Pushpa Lata is one amongst the group of tribal women who are learning how to drive an e-rickshaw. “I am happy and excited to operate an e-rickshaw. Instead of sitting at home, we will also earn some money by operating the service in the village,” an elated Pushpa told Times of India.
Costing about ₹1.70 lakh, 20 per cent of the funding for each rickshaw will be borne by SHGs while the remaining 80 per cent is to be supported by District Mineral Fund (DMF). Ten charging stations at different locations will be installed where these rickshaws can be charged as and when required.
“The route map is being designed for each vehicle to identify the locations where e-rickshaw battery charges have to be installed,” explained Zilla Panchayat CEO.
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Reportedly, all the vehicles are to be equipped with first aid kits and GPS-tracking, and the women operators will be given smartphones with an SOS button.
Upon hitting the button, police station control rooms closest in the vicinity will be alerted and can track the vehicles.
Also, the officials have come up with a scheme under which instances of a pregnant lady hitching the e-rickshaw for a hospital visit will avail the women drivers the fee that is normally given to Mahtari express (102 ambulance), who provide free transportation service to pregnant women.
With the goal of empowering the local tribal women with better livelihoods, the district administration is trying to find every possibility that can be utilised to increase income for these women.
The women are also quite hopeful that the project will be a success and function unperturbed by Naxal groups.