Just a few days ago, online cab aggregator agency Ola filed a complaint with the police against one of its registered driver partners for letting a proxy driver take his place. The proxy was accused of misbehaving with a woman passenger.
The incident occurred on July 10 and there have been at least four cases of sexual attacks on women in Ola and Uber cabs in the last three months. There was then a demand for the removal of the child lock in the cabs after incidents of attempted kidnapping were reported. Once the driver activates the child lock, the passenger in the back seat cannot reach the lock and only the driver can unlock it.
The repeated incidents from Bengaluru drew national attention. The Union Women and Child Development ministry convened a meeting on June 13 seeking more accountability on cab aggregators. The ministry emphasised on thorough background checks of the drivers and on ensuring that the cabs have disabled the child-lock feature. Referring to the July 10 incident, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi tweeted, “This is the third case of harassment of a woman passenger by a cab driver in #Bengaluru, in less than a month. My directions to @CPBlr to invoke criminal liability of cab aggregators like @Olacabs and @Uber_India has had no effect.’’
So, what is happening with the issue of women’s safety in the city’s cabs?
It’s been two years and six months since the state government introduced the “Karnataka On-demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules”, mainly to ensure passenger safety. The notification issued by the government was commended, for it addressed all major issues concerning the safety of passengers. Under Rule 7, the notification made it mandatory to display a board inside the cab containing complete information about the vehicle and the driver, including the police verification. Under the very rule, it was made mandatory to have GPS/GPRS tracking facility in every vehicle and the provision for a panic button to alert the aggregator’s control room and the police without interference by the driver.
If that is so, why is it that we are witnessing repeated incidents of harassment and attacks inside the cabs? According to a senior official from the Transport Department, though the notification was issued, its implementation could not be achieved for various reasons. One of the main reasons was that the notification was challenged before the Karnataka High Court and there is a stay on the power of the licensing authority to suspend or cancel the licence in case the licensee fails to comply with any of the conditions laid down in the rules.
Radhakrishna Holla, general secretary of Bengaluru Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association says the Transport Department can still implement the rules. “It is true that the high court has stayed the power of the licensing authority to cancel or suspend the licence. But that should not stop the department from implementing the rules. The department should start cancelling the license at the stage of issuance of fitness certificate,’’ Holla said.
Meanwhile, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed before the high court seeking implementation of the rules and removal of the child lock. In the last hearing, the court sought to know the state government’s stand on women’s safety and removal of child lock.
The Union government recently issued a notification making it mandatory for car makers to remove the child lock from cars sold as taxis from July 2019. However, state governments need to issue a separate notification to implement this order. There are suggestions that the state government may direct the car dealers to disable the child lock at the time of sale since it would be known then whether the car is going to be used as a taxi.
State DGP&IGP Neelmani Raju said in a recent meeting chaired by Deputy Chief Minister (also Home Minister) G Parameshwara that it was decided to implement the rules and take up immediate measures. “The meeting mainly covered issues that are to be addressed by the Transport Department. Some such issues included changes to be introduced in the app the cab aggregators are using, to ensure SOS system in the vehicle. I have given instructions to the police to increase patrolling at vulnerable stretches, especially the alternative route to the international airport. The stretch is not properly lit yet and people from outstation may not be aware of the route,’’ Neelmani Raju said.
According to Bengaluru Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association, there are around 1.28 lakh taxis in the city. While it may take a lot of time to implement the provisions framed in the 2016 Rules, the Transport Department needs to enforce certain measures as an immediate response, says Lakshmy Iyengar, an advocate representing the petitioner in the PIL before the high court. “The state government had sought time to file its report on its stand. Delhi has introduced a stopgap arrangement by pasting on the taxi a message reminding the passenger to manually disable the child lock. The Karnataka government has not done anything so far and I hope they will come up with an immediate response and ways to implement the rules framed in 2016,’’ she said.