STS - conferences, IST2012

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Motorization of cycle-vans in India: Analysis of two experiments in West Bengal
Duke Ghosh, Joyashree Roy, Samir Kumar Saha

Last modified: 2012-03-19


After being introduced in India in the early years of the last century, “cycle rickshaws” have emerged as a popular mode of non motorized transport in the country. A modified variant, the cycle rickshaw van, is used in the rural and sub-urban India for providing dual service - carrying passengers and goods. A recent development, apparent in the sub-urban and rural India during the last ten years, is the natural transition of the non-motorized cycle vans to a motorized form –through fitting a locally manufactured engine, running on fossil fuels, onto the vehicles. The number of such motorized vehicles is increasing. However, the role of such bottom-up natural experiments in sustainability transition needs to be understood very dispassionately and, to our knowledge, there is no rigorous research addressing this issue. Policy making Institutions, technology research and development centers have taken up, as parallel and strategic moves, initiatives to transform these motorized vehicles to become cleaner and more efficient. At least two distinct strategic experiments can be identified in Wet Bengal (a state in India) – one aims at making these vehicles electric (in 2003) and, the second attempts at using solar power (in 2008). Both the experiments were initiated by the government and technology research institutes.

In this article, within the framework of transitions literature, we intend to present preliminary findings from process tracing study of these top-down strategic experiments and investigate as to what extent the experiments have been “embedded” in the incumbent mobility regime for ushering in a “sustainability transition” in the mobility domain in the rural and sub-urban India. Further, we deploy the strategic niche management (SNM) framework to understand the drivers and barriers for the success (or failure) of these experiments. Our study offers an insight into the uniqueness in the challenges of up-scaling such strategic experiments for sustainability transition.