The next time you brave a trip to Old Delhi, amidst the hustle bustle of vendors, push carts, and auto rickshaws, you might notice that there’s something missing. A few weeks from now, Delhi’s horse drawn tongas are likely to disappear from the city’s streets forever.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has settled upon a plan to phase out all tongas within two months and offer their owners compensation in the form of a tehbazari, or roadside shop, that measures 4 feet by 6 feet.
In an interview with Mint, former standing committee chairman and BJP councilor, Vijendra Gupta, said that tongas are an outdated mode of transport, one that cannot be allowed to continue on Delhi’s roads due to traffic safety concerns. He is of the view that the tonga owners will be better off under the new plan, and will make more money from a tehbazari.
But there appears to be a difference of opinion on this front as many tonga walas are unhappy with the compensation the corporation is offering. Many of the men who drive them are in their late seventies or eighties and cannot imagine any other way of life. Additionally, the closing of the tongas will affect a range of other ancillary micro industries, from farriers to cleaners.
Popularized during colonial times, horse drawn tongas have rapidly dwindled in number over the last few years. Today, there are fewer than 220 tongas on Delhi’s streets.
One popular alternative amongst tonga owners Mint talked to was the idea that instead of banning this age-old institution, the government could help refurbish the carriages and allow tongawalas to ply tourists up and down in areas like India Gate. This would protect the livelihood of the 200 plus tongawalas that currently trot their horses around areas like Chandni Chowk and Sadar Bazar, while also preserving a slice of the capital’s history.