24 Good Businesses 2012

Wheels of change

SMV Wheels makes it possible for Varanasi-based rickshawallahs to purchase their own vehicles

VISHAL KOUL

I have two children — one boy, one girl — and a very small piece of land,” says 40-year-old Kamal of Varanasi. His face is wrinkled and tanned, and he looks emaciated, but his calves are muscular, which leaves no doubt about what he has been doing all his life. “I have pulled a rickshaw for 20 years but I could never own one for most part,” shares Kamal. A study estimated that there are 100 million rickshawallahs in India and 95% of them rent their vehicles from mafia-like fleet merchants. The Kamals of Varanasi slog 14-hours a day in rain or shine, own nothing, save nothing, and pay₹40-50 of the ₹200 they earn ferrying desis and firangs through the narrow streets of Varanasi.