Not an easy ride

June 2, 2024

The fate of the Punjab government’s initiative to provide 20,000 motorbikes to girl students is undecided. Some considerations…

Women riders can get cat-called on the streets. — Photo by Rahat Dar
Women riders can get cat-called on the streets. — Photo by Rahat Dar


Noor Fatima was over the moon when she saw her name on the list of candidates entitled to purchase a petrol engine motorcycle on easy installments under a Punjab government scheme to provide two-wheelers to students.

When the scheme was announced in March, Fatima, a Punjab University mass communication graduate, was thrilled. “In November last year, a friend taught me how to drive a motorbike. It was purely out of thrill. But now I’m going to have my own vehicle to ride,” she says excitedly. “My daily commute from my home to the university and then to my workplace, and back, is going to be easier.”

Besides, Fatima says, she always fancied female riders on city roads.

According to Fatima, the Bank of Punjab got in touch seeking her family’s credit history before handing over the prize to her. She will have to pay the price in regular installments.

The motorcycle (petrol and electric) distribution with a soft loan is part of the Chief Minister’s Youth Initiative programme under which a total of 189,491 students have registered. Of these, 57,370 students applied for petrol bikes and 15,270 opted for electric ones. Applications had been sought on the Punjab Information Technology Board’s portal.

Under the scheme, students could purchase petrol and electric bikes through convenient monthly installments, with the Punjab government covering the down payment and the interest. The project is expected to deliver 20,000 motorbikes. Male students have to pay Rs 11,676 per month and female students Rs 7,325 per month. The motorcycles will be distributed based on the population density of each district.

The fancy feature of the scheme is motorcycles for female students. This reminds one of Salman Sufi who had helped the Punjab government launch the Women on Wheels in 2016. With the change in government, Sufi made it an independent project of the Salman Sufi Foundation, with the stated mission to train 500,000 women by 2025. “The motorbike scheme for women is a great idea. It could empower thousands of female students who are unable to attend college/university for lack of mobility,” Sufi says.

“Ever since we launched WoW in 2016, we’ve trained upwards of 30,000 women from across Pakistan. Many more are joining in. They motivated by a desire to become mobile and independent,” he adds. “We must understand that mobility is not a favour. It is a right of the female citizens of the country. They must be encouraged to become independent and mobile if we want them to contribute to the economic growth of the country.”

Fatima seconds Sufi, saying that the scheme is “a good start to empower the youth. I look forward to seeing more of such programmes being launched, not only for students but also for people from various fields.”


The PITB-driven portal for the scheme recently uploaded the lists of successful candidates and of those on the waiting list. As per the portal, for the category of e-bikes for female students, there were 8,039 eligible applicants. Of these, 300 were successful. An additional 300 were placed on the waiting list. In the category of petrol bikes for female students, there were 10,347 eligible applicants. Out of those, 7,321 were successful. 2,934 were put on the waiting list.

Likewise, for e-bikes for male students, there were 4,341 eligible applicants. Of these, 700 were successful, while 700 were placed on the waiting list. In the category of petrol bikes for male students, there were 37,450 eligible applicants out of whom 11,679 were declared successful and 9,667 placed on the waiting list.

The scheme is a reminder of a 2016 government project, Women on Wheels, led by Salman Sufi. — Photo by Rahat Dar
The scheme is a reminder of a 2016 government project, Women on Wheels, led by Salman Sufi. — Photo by Rahat Dar

Much of the press online is already click-bait. Are we now entering the phase where being a writer who gets published takes nothing more than a badly written prompt in a chat box?

The applicants had to be over 18 years of age; regular students at a degree college or university recognised by the Higher Education Commission; and have a valid motorcycle learner’s permit or driving licence.

According to the Punjab University IT Department, 8,600 students applied for the bikes. All of them were supposed to obtain a licence. The university facilitated them by arranging traffic police camps.

The delivery schedule of motorcycles is not certain as of now. A May 17 order of Lahore High Court linked the distribution of motorcycles among students to the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency. The court had highlighted the issue of pollution and incidents of one-wheeling, and ordered a detailed report from the government on the scheme.

The court order got mixed reactions. Sufi sees it as “interference” in Executive’s decisions. He says, “The Judiciary must realise that such projects are meant for the facilitation of the citizens. Making them contingent upon long-term impact policies such as environment is counter-productive, especially when the focus is on electric bikes.”

Environmental lawyer Rafay Alam, however, supports the court’s verdict: “The LHC explained to the advocate general the definition of environment and adverse environmental effects. According to our law, anyone who causes or is likely to cause an adverse environmental effect must conduct an environmental impact assessment of their project to mitigate, reduce or prevent potential environmental damage.

“The judge fairly observed that 20,000 motorcycles would contribute to air pollution, which constitutes an adverse environmental effect. Therefore, he requested the Punjab government to screen its motorcycle project with an environmental impact assessment report.”


There are other issues to look at too. Prof Dr Muhammad Zaman, the founding chairman of School of Sociology, Quaid-i-Azam University, is of the view that motorbikes are a major contributor to deadly road accidents. He quotes from his two-year-old research on road safety in Pakistan in which he found that 60-70 percent of deadly road crashes involved motorcycles.

He also cites Rescue 1122’s data released in 2023, saying that 80 percent of road accidents involved motorcycles. “The honourable judge should also highlight the socio-economic cost of the [motorcycle] scheme,” he says. “When motorcycle accidents were being scrutinised, it emerged that 90 percent of the accidents involved riders who were below 30 years of age.”

He adds, “When the head of a family is killed in a road accident, it affects the whole family. The project’s economic cost is enormous.

“Not a single city of the Punjab has a decent public transport mechanism. Instead of spending this money on motorcycles, the government should introduce public transport buses.”

Fatima points to another issue: the “emotional cost, which a female rider has to bear.” She says women riders can get cat-called on the streets. “I fear being harassed.”

Ahsan Malik is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship 

Not an easy ride