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Matheran's hand-cart pullers demand battery-operated rickshaws

The hand-cart pullers, who make several trips up and down the hill daily, suffer from respiratory and skin diseases

For many, Matheran is an eco-sensitive haven, filled with fresh air in the absence of automobiles. However, hand-rickshaw pullers, who ferry tourists and luggage up the three-km-long, muddy road, which is full of stones and horse dung beg to differ. They are demanding battery-operated cars to replace their hand-pulled carts, which cause respiratory and skin diseases, arthritis and stress among them.

The horse dung
The horse dung, which is rich in nitrogen, when mixes with the wet mud causes respiratory disorders in Matheran’s hand-cart pullers. PIC/EMMANUAL KHARBARI

Last year, the hand-rickshaw union of Matheran to the monitoring committee demanding battery-operated cars, but the request was denied, citing Supreme Court orders. However, the hand-rickshaw union is still hopeful that their demand will be met. Shakil Patel, the president of the rickshaw union, said, “Driving these hand-pulled rickshaws has made our lives miserable. We hope the battery-operated rickshaws will improve working conditions.”

Pullers’ plight
On an average, a hand-cart puller makes two to three trips up and down the elevated hill during peak season. According to Dr Uday Shankar Tambe, Basic Medical Sciences (BMS) doctor at the Matheran Municipal Hospital, almost 60 per cent of the hand-rickshaw pullers suffer from severe breathlessness and body pain. These hand-cart pullers suffer from many health issues, including respiratory and skin diseases, calcium deficiency, generalised bodyache and arthritis.”

The road is covered with horse dung and contains high levels of nitrogen. When it mixes with the mud, it causes respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and pulmonary tuberculosis. “Many have even taken to alcohol to beat the physical stress,” Tambe added.

One cart is pulled by three pullers, which earns them Rs 350, out of which one-fourth the amount goes to the rickshaw owner. The rest is divided equally among the pullers.

The other side
“According to the Supreme Court’s decision, no vehicles, except for fire brigade vans and ambulances, are allowed in Matheran. The monitoring committee has been appointed only to look after the hill station. No alterations can be made against the SC orders,” said Ramgnathan, former Chairman of the Matheran Monitoring Committee.

The numbers say it all

>> Number of workers required to pull one-hand cart: 3
>> Amount of money earned by each worker(one-way): Rs 50

>> Total amount of money earned by the workers (one-way): Rs 350
>> Amount earned daily by each worker during peak season: Rs 400-Rs 500

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