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Hang the driver, not Uber

The Delhi government’s decision to ban Uber (and now other ‘aggregators’ such as Ola and TaxiForSure) services will perhaps earn it many brownie points in the surcharged atmosphere following Friday’s horrific rape case. But the abrupt decision is a typical knee-jerk reaction by a clueless government. 

The cab driver deserves the worst punishment that Indian laws provide for committing such a heinous crime. But what are the charges against Uber and other radio taxi operators that invited a ban on their services? No one knows the answer – least of all a city-state where the police weren’t even aware of the existence of Uber until the victim called them up. This is plain ridiculous as everyone and his uncle in 11 cities across India seems to know about Uber due to its high-voltage promotional campaigns and cheap fares. 

Police say Uber never applied for any permission, is not recognised under the radio taxi rules and has flouted most of the laid-down rules. But did the police care to find out whether Uber or other radio taxi ‘aggregators’ needed to get a permit under the Motor Vehicles Act? The answer is ‘No’ and that is precisely why the proposed Road Transport & Safety Bill has sought to include them under its ambit. If radio taxi operators were allowed by the law to operate without a permit, who do you blame – the law or the operator?

Second, one of the main accusations against Uber is that it did not do proper background check on its drivers, evident from the fact that the driver who committed the crime was arrested three years ago on rape charges and subsequently acquitted. This accusation also doesn’t wash. It’s true Uber should have considered his criminal record before associating with him. But what records are we talking about? 

The Delhi Transport Department itself had issued an All India Tourist Permit to the criminal-driver’s taxi n May 28 after ‘due verification of character and antecedents of the permit holder’. Apparently, the Delhi police also gave the driver a ‘character certificate’ in August this year. On what basis did the police issue the character certificate and what background check Uber could have done if police found nothing wrong with the rape-accused? This is precisely what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hinted at when he said the company will work with the government to establish clear background checks “currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs”.

The simple point to note is that if Uber can be banned for the criminal intent of one of the drivers, then somebody can legitimately demand that the Police Commissioner of Delhi should be dismissed for the character certificate issued by one of his officers.

The police know they are on weak ground and that explains why one of the Deputy Commissioners said on Monday that legal advice has to be taken before opting to press a criminal or civil case against Uber. 

If that’s the case, why hang somebody even before investigations are held and proof is given for his involvement in a crime?

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