Melba Pria, the Mexican ambassador to India has been using a “chauffeur-driven” auto-rickshaw as her “official vehicle” both to promote Mexico here in an Indian way as well as to make her “small contribution” to address concerns of pollution in the city, thus breaking away from the usual practice of top diplomats using super luxury sedans and SUVs.
On the auto-rickshaw, Mexican street artist Senkoe has painted floral patterns on a white background. The auto-rickshaw bears a diplomatic number plate along with the Mexican flag.
Melba Pria told The Sunday Guardian that the primary reason behind using an auto-rickshaw as her official vehicle was to promote Mexico in an Indian way: “Initially, I was trying to figure out how I could promote Mexico in India and then I decided that the three-wheeler auto-rickshaw would be the right way as it would connect to every Indian and the Indian culture.”
Pria, a keen environmentalist, added, “The rising air pollution in Delhi has become a cause for concern for all of us living in this city. In December last year, we did not have a single day of ‘good air’ and as citizens, we do not want to breathe in bad air. Delhi belongs to me as well as now I am a Delhiite; so I decided that I would also like to contribute in my own way for the city. All of us would like to have more efficient and less polluting vehicles.”
Pria’s decision to use an auto-rickshaw as the official vehicle had surprised many in the Mexican embassy. Rajendar Kumar, Pria’s official driver dressed in a safari suit and with sunglasses on, drives the ambassador around the city in this vehicle. “When Madam told us that she would be using an auto-rickshaw to drive around the city, I was surprised as it was such a strange decision. I did not even know how to drive an auto. However, slowly I was trained to drive the auto, and now I am enjoying it. We get a lot of enthusiastic reactions when we drive through the streets. People are not used to seeing such a beautiful auto, so they even try to stop us to ask questions. It has been a great experience driving the ambassador’s auto-rickshaw.” Kumar told The Sunday Guardian.
“While I am driving through the city, many commuters try to stop us for a ride, but we are not able to cater to them as it is a diplomatic vehicle. Many auto-rickshaw drivers even ask my driver whether a new company of auto-rickshaws has been launched again in Delhi,” Pria said.
The ambassador’s auto-rickshaw had to face some hurdles as several places, including Parliament, most five-star hotels, ministries of Government of India, among other places, do not allow auto-rickshaws in their premises. “As ambassador, we have to go to many places where they don’t allow auto-rickshaws, but an auto-rickshaw with a diplomatic number plate arriving at the gates of such places left many puzzled. For instance in Parliament, they did not allow us even after a lot of negotiations as they have a real problem with three-wheelers, a vehicle which is so common. Usually I do not create a fuss; I walk down to places where they do not allow the vehicle. However, they are slowly getting used to this vehicle. Even when I travelled to Delhi as a tourist, I used auto-rickshaws. So being an ambassador in the same city did not change anything for me,” Pria said.
For Pria, getting an auto-rickshaw for diplomatic use was not an easy task, as autos in India are commercial vehicles and are meant to be used only for commercial purposes. But the ambassador’s office had written to the Ministry of External Affairs, assuring the ministry of non-commercial use of the vehicle after which a diplomatic number plate was given for the auto-rickshaw. Pria had also received calls from the Protocol Division of the MEA. “I had someone from the Protocol Division calling me up regarding security concerns, but I had assured them that nothing would happen as I would love to travel with the many millions of Indians who use auto-rickshaws as their daily mode of commute. The officials never objected to my using an auto-rickshaw as my official vehicle and were cooperative,” Pria said. The Mexican government has also applauded her decision.