Out of Control Policy Blog

Enviros vs. Commies in Calcutta

Fairly or unfairly, in the Western mind Calcutta is known as the city that offered Mother Teresa a a life-time of gainful employment through its steady supply of lepers and beggars.

Well, its Communist rulers decided a few months ago to do something to shore up the city's image and attract investors: They banned hand-pulled rickshaws.

The practice of sweaty-browed, emaciated men straining every sinew to pull a human cargo turned off investors, they claimed.

That Communists should be shoving off rickshaw-pullers to pave the way for private business is ironic – not to mention dishonest given that during their five-decades of rule they have consistently condemned businesses as profiteering, blood-sucking, scum-of-the-earth whose presence was the biggest impediment to their vision of social justice.

So it is not surprising that the opposition (this is a democracy, after all) mounted a strong protest. Among the groups protesting the loudest were the environmentalists.

But why? Because the ban would deprive the poorest of the poor of their only way of earning a living? Because it would throw their families, already living hand-to-mouth, into utter destitution?

No. The ban would lead to a switch to motorized vehicles, contributing to pollution. "The annual total of pollutants would increase by 11 tons of lead, 4,000 tons of particulates, 20,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 150 tons of nitrogen," one of the enviros claimed.

For the sake of the rickshaw pullers, one hopes that the enviros prevail over the commies.

Who said two wrongs don't make a right?

Shikha Dalmia is Senior Analyst


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