Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, and the fourth largest by land area . With 6 nearly 200 million inhabitants, it is also the most densely populated and contributes to 1/6th of the country’s total population. While agriculture is the main employment generator in the state, land fragmentation is high and cultivation is mainly for subsistence. The lack of livelihood opportunities forces people to migrate to other parts of the country in search of jobs.
Local mobility and short distance connectivity are also gap areas in the state, especially for women, girls and the elderly in rural areas – who have to rely on male members of their families to reach markets, schools and health ervices; or in the absence of such assistance remain confined to their homes and localities, as it not considered safe for them to travel on their own. This severely limits their opportunities for livelihood, education, health services and overall development. In urban areas, short distance connectivity is much better, but the primary modes of transportation, such as, auto-rickshaws, tempos and buses are high on emissions. The World Air Quality Report, published by IQAir in 2020, reported that 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Of these 22, 10 are in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone.
A clean-tech last mile mobility solution with a gender focused approach is tackling this threefold problem of unemployment, connectivity and safety in four districts of Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, Varanasi, Allahabad, and Bahraich. With SMV Green Solutions, a Varanasi based social enterprise, Sustain Plus is supporting 830 men and women in peri-urban and rural areas to take up e-mobility as an enterprise opportunity, by becoming asset owners and transportation service providers. Under the program, E-rickshaw entrepreneurs are supported with an end-to-end solution, which includes training for driving, attaining a driver’s license, and vehicle insurance. Women entrepreneurs are called Vahinis. Modified EVs, called E-karts are used for agri-logistics and other allied farm services.
Poonam is an ASHA worker , and 7 purchased the e-rickshaw to be independent in her work and to earn an additional income. In her job, Poonam helps pregnant women access healthcare benefits provided at the government primary health centre (PHC), such as immunization, antenatal care, delivery, post-natal check-ups, etc.
Earlier, Poonam depended on her husband to reach clients or the PHC during emergencies. At times, patients needed to be taken to the hospital, but the village roads were not wide enough for ambulances to reach the patient. Now,
Poonam’s e-rickshaw doubles up as an ambulance whenever needed. She has also tied up with the PHC and drives patients to and from the center everyday. Families also feel comfortable sending their daughters and wives un-chaperoned, seeing Poonam as the e-rickshaw driver. The Vahini e-rickshaws are adapted to enhance women’s safety with features like cloud-based cameras and a smartphone with a panic button connected to alert the local police station.
Like Poonam, 45 other women have become financially independent as E-rickshaw Vahinis. These Vahinis drive ~80km everyday, taking 8-10 trips on average. They earn approximately Rs. 500/day and Rs. 12,500/month. In addition to their usual pick-n-drop routes, they also take bookings for day long rentals from families.
The Vahinis in Bahraich have a new-found independence and sense of identity. They have the autonomy to work flexibly and manage household chores and children, and have most importantly gained financial independence and access to disposable income. Initially an odd sight to locals, they have become popular as ‘E-rickshaw didis’.
50 small farmers and entrepreneurs in Kushinagar and Bahraich are using E-karts to transport fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural produce to the local mandis and markets for sale. It is an innovative modular solution that provides farmers point-to-point delivery services for 400-500kg loads. Prior to this, farmers had to either transport their produce on their own bicycles, or hire expensive tempo transportation to deliver produce to the market, and cost them
Rs.100-150 for a 50kg load. With E-karts, the cost of transportation is nil, produce is delivered in time and fetches better prices, and logistics services rendered to others are also significantly cheaper. E-kart entrepreneurs report earnings of ~Rs.10,000 a month.