In a month, Delhi’s homeless cycle rickshaw-wallahs will not have to contort their weary limbs to fit into their puny rickshaws for the night. Members of the Mother NGO project, which was given by the Delhi government to St Stephen’s Hospital in November 2009a to coordinate the citizen-NGO-government response to homelessness, have designed a convertible cycle rickshaw fitted with a six-feet bed, reading light, FM radio, a small electric fan and a mobile charging port. On October 23, Delhi Chief Minister, Sheila Dixit unveiled the innovation, aptly named Sukoon (relief). Delhi’s cycle rickshaw drivers will be able to purchase Sukoon next month onward for Rs 15,000-16,000. Mother NGO will help cycle rickshaw drivers raise the money through microfinance.
Dr Amod Kumar, HOD of community health at St Stephen’s Hospital and model officer for Mother NGO says initially the project only comprised rehabilitation and assistance for the homeless on Delhi’ streets. "While I was working on the project, I realised that many rickshaw pullers came to our shelters because they didn’t have a place to sleep. In fact, they comprise 30 per cent of all homeless people in Delhi. They live in terrible conditions even during the day. That’s when I decided that we must, as part of the project, design a better cycle rickshaw for them.”
Three months ago, Dr Kumar approached 21 year-old Ankur Rawal, a chemical engineering student at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, who was a volunteer at Mother NGO. Earlier this year, Rawal, a design junkie, founded a product design company, Deshardt Solutions. Rawal worked on Sukoon for 15 days in September.
Sukoon has almost everything a cycle rickshaw owner could possibly need for business and leisure. The seat extends to become a six-feet long bed, the roof is convertible, and the cycle rickshaw is fitted with a solar panel which charges a battery which, in turn, can provide power to a fan, a reading light and an FM radio for five hours. Sukoon is also equipped with a mosquito net and knee guards for the passenger. The storage space, which can be locked, enables the driver to pack in clothes for at least four days and a quilt, too. “And a passenger can still keep his own suitcase inside the rickshaw. Sukoon has 7.5 feet of advertising space, too,” says Rawal, barely taking a breath between his words.
The biggest challenge while designing Sukoon was the lack of workshops to work in. “We didn’t have funds to build a workshop from scratch, so we approached rickshaw workshops around Delhi and found space in one. We had 17 pre-orders from NGOs when we started out — Delhi isn’t big on innovation, honestly — and the number rose to 160 by the time we finished designing Sukoon. But things are looking up now. We have a private equity firm which has expressed interest in funding 500 Sukoon cycle rickshaws. The Hyderabad government is also interested in introducing Sukoon.”
The price of the cycle rickshaw, says Rawal, includes all the services. “The Delhi government plans to refund the VAT and service taxes to cycle rickshaw drivers, too.”