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States begin crackdown on Uber, like entities

Trouble escalated on Wednesday for Uber, the US-based taxi service provider, at the focus of a furore after the alleged rape of a woman in Delhi last Friday by one of its drivers after she’d hired him.

The governments of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana put a ban on Uber. In Delhi, where the company was prohibited from operating two days earlier, it finally stopped its taxi operations from the afternoon.

Other state governments are expected to issue similar orders. The Union government has asked all states to ban unlicensed taxi operators such as TaxiForSure, Ola Cabs, etc, on Tuesday. Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad are some of the largest cities in terms of operations for Uber in India.

The police in Delhi continued to question Eric Alexander, the Asia-Pacific president of Uber, for a second day in connection with the alleged rape, mentioned earlier, of a 27-year-old finance executive. The police has asked Uber’s officials for details of the drivers on their networks and how they verified the antecedents.

Alexander was handed over a 12-point questionnaire. “Alexander has asked for a week’s time to submit the answers of the questions as some of them had to be sourced from their headquarters in San Francisco,” said DCP (North) Madhur Verma.

Alexander told reporters after the questioning: “My deepest sympathies with the victim. We are cooperating with the police and I cannot divulge further details since investigations are underway.”

On Tuesday, the Delhi Police had filed a First Information Report against Uber and was debating its criminal liability. A senior Uber official, Shailesh Sawlani, was attacked and abused in Mumbai as he emerged from a meeting of the transport department.

The company communicated to its 4,000-odd drivers through an SMS text message on Wednesday morning, saying operations in Delhi had been stopped and they “hope” to be back soon. The dues of the drivers, paid on a weekly basis, would be cleared soon, the message added.

However, drivers of Ola and TaxiForSure continued to ply on Delhi roads, defying the ban. TaxiForSure had said on Tuesday that it had no official communication from the Delhi authorities on stopping its vehicles. Delhi Police recovered the iPhone which was provided by Uber to the driver in question, from Mathura. For the police, the phone is important evidence – it will prove that the man, Shiv Kumar Yadav, worked for Uber, “which will help us prove the culpability of the cab service. It will also prove that Yadav was driving the cab which the victim had booked,” a police official told PTI. The city police has also urged a US-based lady, Nidhi Shah, to file a formal complaint for the allegedly indecent behaviour of Yadav on November 26, when she had hired his cab through Uber. She’d posted the news on a social media platform.

HC to hear suit

The high court in Delhi also admitted a public interest suit filed by a lawyer, Damini Chawla, seeking measures to regulate radio cabs in the national capital. The suit says these flout the existing rules. She also narrated a personal incident where she’d travelled in an Ola taxi whose driver was charged in a murder case and was out on bail.

Uber’s plea

In a late-night press meet on Tuesday, Allen Penn, head of Uber’s Asia-Pacific section, had said the company had felt it was compliant with the regulations, and there was a “misunderstanding” about its business model. However, he said, they were keen on a dialogue with the authorities for a solution to some of the issues, apart from looking at ways to make their network and Delhi safer for women.

On the ban on its operations, Penn said, “We’re still trying to get the details on what it entails. We respect the government and the regulations but there is a conflict between new-age technology platforms and the regulations governing these, which are old.” He also said the company doesn’t take safety “lightly” and checks the car and the documents of drivers thoroughly when they first enrol with the company.

In Maharashtra, the state transport department has issued orders to the transport commissioner to stop the services of app-based or web-based taxis. “We have taken the decision after the state received the Centre’s advisory,” said S K Sharma, the transport secretary.

Further, state Transport Commissioner Mahesh Zagde has directed operators of radio taxis and aggregators to present data on the background verification of drivers by Thursday, plus a plan on consumer safety and emergency procedures by the end of this month.

Zagde, added Sawlani, the Uber general manager, who represented the company at a meeting of taxi operators on Wednesday, was clearly told the department was not happy with Uber services in Mumbai and Pune. “When I asked Sawlani to submit data with regard to background verification of drivers, he expressed inability to do so. I told him if Uber cannot abide by the country’s law, they should immediately suspend their services,'” he added. Taxi operators in Maharashtra have also been told to put in place the necessary measures, including GPS in all their vehicles, by January 15.

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