While the city has 900 licensed thelis, the actual number is closer to 10,000
The reason our city’s civic services are in such a mess is the lack of “power” in the Dehradun Municipal Committee, man power, money power and will power. With the income barely able to meet the salaries of the existing employees, the DMC is not unable to acquire the manpower it requires to provide effective services nor can it afford to buy the equipment it needs. As it struggles to increase its income it faces resistance from organized interest groups. Be it the issue of rationalization of house tax, illegal roof top hoardings, illegal mobile towers, illegal vegetable markets or illegal handcarts, any effort to get DMC its rightful dues is met with stiff resistance under the garb of “peoples wishes”. A look into the murky world of handcarts or “thelis” in Doon can be an eye-opener, of how rules, which are self defeating, deprive the DMC of its rightful income and leaves migrant labourers at mercy of rich contractors.
To ply a theli, one needs a licence. While Dehradun has 900 licensed thelis, the actual number plying on roads is closer to 10,000. As the Municipality charges Rs 375 per year from each theli as license fees, it stands to loose Rs 3.375 Crores each year on this count! The reason for such a huge gap in numbers is because of the licensing requirements. To get a form to apply for a licence one needs a Ration Card of Dehradun, and as the majority of people are migrant workers without one, they are ineligible. Those who have resources start their own theli while others work on daily wages for contractors, and still others take a theli on monthly rent, all without a license. A few influential people in town are rumoured to have over 2000 thelis each, giving them out on a monthly rent varying from Rs 400/- to Rs 800/-, thus making over Rs 8 lac per month as rent, all at the expense of the DMC.
The catch in this game is the license itself. The license is in the form of an ID card, with the photograph of the person and a metallic token to fix on his theli. The Theli’s have no identifying number on them, so that the same person can go on ten different days and claim ten different thelis as his! Worse, it is said, that anyone can go with anyone’s license and claim any theli as his, even the name & photograph is not checked by the DMC staff. The big time players in this game are said to have 10 -15 licenses and over 2000 thelis, rotating the licenses as and when any theli is caught by the DMC.
When the DMC staff does catch unlicensed thelis they make no attempt to identify the person from whom it is taken. As a result any person can go to the DMC the next day, present any license (even if it has someone else’s name and photograph), pay a penalty of Rs 200/- and then get the theli released. The responsibility of getting thelis released rests with the contractor, who exploits this disconnect between the people on whose name the license is made with the theli.
Also exploiting these illegal thelis, especially those plying in the center of the town, are the beat constables. One person selling non-vegetarian food claims to be paying them upto Rs 200/- per day, while those in the periphery of the town are free from this exploitation.
Thelis are a no-win proposition for the DMC even as others laugh all the way to the bank. While the DMC charges only Rs 375/- per year, there are people who pay up to Rs 800/- per month, even as licenses are issued to only a small fraction of the actual number of thelis. Even if the DMC charges Rs 100/- per month per theli from all thelis, it stand to earns Rs 12 Crores per year! With even the poorest of the theliwala earning at least Rs 2500/- per month and some up to Rs 25,000- per month, a charge of just Rs 100/- will never pinch especially if it comes with a license.
A practical way out would be not to insist on a local ration card, any ID proof should be enough, as the application goes to the local police station and municipal councillor for verification anyway. While seizing thelis the DMC must make a note of the person whom it is seized from and insist on seeing that person’s license before releasing the theli. Linking a licensee with a particular theli by inscribing a unique number, much like a chaises number of a vehicle, will go a long way in stopping the illegal plying of thelis and the huge financial loss it causes to the DMC. Strong protests from those who stand to loose will occur, under the guise of “saving poor people from exploitation” but a financially sound DMC can provide a much better service to the residents of Doon. But the question is who will bell the cat? And, more importantly, is anyone interested in belling the cat?
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