Delhi tongas won’t retire to stables

New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) The capital’s horse-drawn carriages that hark back to the Raj days are not trotting off into the sunset just yet. They were ordained to declog the Delhi roads, now flooded with crawling auto vehicles, by Sunday. But the owners of tongas are in no mood to end the clickety-clack of their steeds’ hoofs.

‘We are not going to heed to the MCD (order). This is our ancestral job. We don’t want to leave it,’ said Salim, a representative of tongawallahs, speaking to IANS.

There are 232 licensed tongawallahs in Delhi, out of which 130 ply in old Delhi alone. The civic body, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), had set May 31 as the deadline for phasing out these carts, but the date was later extended to June 6 – Sunday.

The MCD has not renewed the licences of tongawallahs, which expired May 31 but allow them to ply till June 6.

The tongawallahs were asked to take up vendors’ jobs by the civic coeporation that came up with a rehabilitation plan for them. The MCD allotted a ‘tehbazari’ (vending) site in east Delhi’s Shastri Park for them.

But that rehabilitation plan has not gone down well with the tongawallahs.

‘When the MCD approached us with its rehabilitation plan, we thought that it would really help us to fight our poverty. But taking up a vendor’s job will only make us poorer,’ Salim argued.

The civic agency also promised plots and concrete tehbazari sites equipped with public amenities to as many as 132 licensed tongawallahs of old Delhi.

But the cartwallahs are complaining that instead of building concrete stalls, only a concrete pavement structure has been constructed alongside the main GT Road near Shastri Park.

Syed Abdullah, who has been a tonga-driver for the past 10 years, told IANS: ‘The MCD has given tehbazari permits in east Delhi. But most of us live in Old Delhi areas and shifting goods to Shastri Park every day is very difficult.’

Ansari, another tonga owner, said: ‘Moreover, for those who have more than one tonga licence, the MCD has promised 25 percent assistance to buy a CNG-run vehicle. But a new vehicle costs around Rs.4.5 lakh. The civic corporation’s financial help is too little.’

The tongawallahs have jointly sent a petition to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

‘We received a reply from the secretariat that soon a scheme would be formed for welfare of the tongawallahs, but it will take at least three months for the state to come up with the scheme. Before that if the MCD forces us to vacate, we will protest the move and stage a dharna,’ said Salim.

Meanwhile, a group of tongawallahs of Old Delhi has approached the Delhi High Court against the MCD’s decision to shoo the horse-carts off Delhi’s roads, seeking an interim stay on the civic agency’s order.

The high court has fixed July 14 for hearing the petition.

Speaking to IANS, Subhash Arya, the BJP’s leader of the house in the MCD, said: ‘Let them appeal in the high court. It is their right. But when alternative jobs are given, why should they be adamant?’

‘Some of them don’t even own tongas and these age-old carriages are creating traffic woes and encroachment problems,’ he added.

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