UBER AND MERU CONTINUE TO OPERATE IN KOLKATA WITHOUT LICENCE
By bappaditya paul
West Bengal has failed to implement the Centre’s advisory on banning web-based transport service providers, such as Uber, for want of a regulatory framework. Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have already imposed the ban using the existing provisions of law.
The Centre had on 9 December advised all states to put an immediate stop to all web-based transport service providers until they obtained licence / permission from the respective states. The move came following the alleged rape of a passenger in Delhi by a taxi driver associated with Uber.
Senior officials at the Bengal Transport Department, however, said they were unable to act as the advisory was unclear. They could not understand under what provisions of law the ban should be implemented.
“Web-based transport service operators function as an interface between a passenger and a cab owner/driver; they do not own a fleet of cars and instead operate by using cars of other contractors or individuals,” said Mr Alapan Bandhopadhyay, principal secretary of the Bengal transport department, “we can at best check whether the cars used by them are registered and the drivers have valid licence; banning them altogether does not fall in the domain of the transport department.”
Uber, Meru and Mega Cabs are the three major web/tech-based transport service providers in Kolkata. But according to Mr Bandhopadhyay, of them only Mega Cabs has around 200 cars licensed / registered with the state transport authority and hence the transport department can act against it in case of any violation of law.
The state transport department has now written to the state home department seeking advise on ways to implement the Centre’s advisory. A letter in this regard was sent to the home secretary last week. “Prima-facie there seems to be no rule immediately available to ban or regulate the web-based transport service providers,” said a senior official in the home department, “but we are studying the matter carefully to find out whether an existing legal provisions can be invoked or new rules will have to be formulated altogether.”
A spokesperson for Uber said that they have thousands of “driver-partners” in Kolkata providing higher quality transportation alternative to people in the city and although the driver’s are employed by registered transportation / limousine companies, as part its commitment to passenger safety, Uber was instituting a refreshed police verification for all “driver-partners”.
“Uber is also establishing a local team of specially trained safety experts to detect fraud, verify and authenticate documents and test the validity of our (internal) screening,” the spokesperson said.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 30 December 2014.)