E-rickshaws are unauthorised in Bhitarkanika Nat Park: RTO

Kendrapara: Introduction of eco-friendly battery-run electronic rickshaws for commuting tourists to Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha has triggered a controversy with the state forest department facing charges of unauthorised operation of the three-wheelers.

The pollution-free transport system was launched in the national park on August 1 after the internationally acclaimed wetland site, which remained out of bounds for tourists for three months, had reopened.

“It is a positive step in providing hassle-free conveyance for domestic and international tourists. However, the forest department has erred in not obtaining the technical and legal sanction while introducing battery-powered three-wheelers,” said Road Transport Officer, Lacchman Sahu.

“Unauthorised plying of these vehicles infringes legal provisions of Orissa Motor Vehicle Act. Therefore, we have directed forest department to adhere to and comply mandatory legal provisions while plying the vehicles,” he said.

Three e-rickshaws made operational in the national park, were yet to be registered with transport department. The vehicles have to be armed with fitness certificates and road permit issued by transport office. Besides, third-party insurance cover is a must as these vehicles would carry tourists and would be run commercially, the RTO said.

“The drivers should have driving licences as stipulated for passenger vehicles. It has come to our notice that e-rickshaws operational in the park are bereft of all these legal provision,” said the official.

“It s an inadvertent slip on our part. We are initiating steps for registering the vehicles besides obtaining other requisites as stipulated by the road transport authorities”, said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Officer, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.

Tourists, mostly elderly people, were facing hardships as there was no motorised mode of transport to cover the 2 km distance from the river jetty to rest sheds and tourist cottages inside the park. The visitors were forced to trek the distance to make their way to the park, the official said.

In view of the inconvenience, the battery operated carriage system was introduced as it had been earlier suggested by a House committee of state Assembly.

The battery operated six-seated three-wheelers are noise-free and do not emit smoke. The tourists are paying Rs 10 fare to reach the park area, he added.