Can women travel after sun sets?

Two years after the gang-rape of a young woman on a chartered bus, Delhi is still struggling to provide a safe commute for women.

This became evident on December 5 when a 26-year-old executive, who had booked a suppposedly safe Uber cab through that company's popular app was raped by the driver. Three days later, city’s transport department banned all  internet-based taxi firms, like Uber, from operating in Delhi

The department has found fault with the manner in which the US-based firm tie up with local drivers, without adequate verification.

“Whose responsibility is it anyway to monitor that registered commercial taxi services follow mandatory rules? Who is allowing this much-hyped international service provider to operate in the country, that too in the national capital, without ensuring compliance to basic security, verification, certification, GPS?” says Jawaharlal Nehru University student Shweta Raj, who protested outside Delhi Police headquarters. “It is not a stray incident which suddenly happened,” she adds.

In 2012, the fatal gang rape of a woman in a moving bus had unleashed an outrage over inadequate efforts to keep the city safe for women. Following the incident, stricter laws against rapist and other sexual offenders were enforced.

But another student, Madhurima, suggests that nothing has changed since that December 16 attack two years back. “If it had, another woman would not have been raped in a moving car,” she says.

It was only following the December 5 rape that the city government felt the need to ban Uber and the likes. For the last year or so, these internet-based taxi firms were operating outside the licence regime brought in for radio taxi services in 2006. In fact, many of the rules prescribed for radio taxi services don’t apply to these technology-driven firms. Experts, therefore, argue that the Uber issue is more than just a lax or corrupt enforcement regime.

The transport department says it had not blacklisted the web-based booking firms, charged with being ‘illegal’ and ‘unregulated’, earlier because they did not know that it existed in the first place. Police, too, reportedly had no clue about Uber. When the rape complaint was received, an officer had to actually download the Uber app, call for a cab and then ask the driver to take them to the company’s office in Gurgaon.

Indeed, in so many ways, Uber was merely functioning as a conduit between cabbies and commuters. It took bookings without actually having any driver on its rolls, unlike radio taxi operators. But justifying its ban, the transport department said that no taxi service can run as cab unless granted “contract carriage permit” under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988.

All public service vehicles including Delhi Transport Corporation buses fall under the “contract carriage” category. While blacklisting the company, the transport department said, “By arranging an All India Tourist Permit vehicle for performing a local journey, the Uber not only acted in contravention of MV Act and rules framed thereunder but also mislead the commuter about the category of the Taxi Service provided by it.”

President of the Radio Taxi Association of India, Kunal Lalani, claimed that the transport department was sitting over complaints against web-based taxi firms. He said that the association had flagged the ‘unfair’ trade practices of these companies as early as April. These companies, he said, charged below the state transport authority-approved rates.

But at the heart of the matter is the state of Delhi’s urban transport facilities. After the 2012 gang-rape, the Delhi government had made it mandatory to have GPS fitted in all commercial vehicles. This is yet to be implemented by the transport department.

Only half of the 85,000 autorickshaws in the city have the mandated GPS-integrated fare meters and even the ‘authorised’ radio taxis don’t have their GPS devices linked to the central control room of the transport department. Instead, they keep track of the vehicles through their own control units.

“Transport department, police and traffic police have no direct access to the data generated by GPS devices. This entire thing has been outsourced to Delhi Integrated Multimodal Transit System (a joint venture between the city government and the Infrastructure and Development and Finance Cooperation). A large number of GPS devices in autos do not connect with the servers. In order to protect their GPS enabled fare meters from vandals, drivers cover them with an iron case. This blocks the signals,” Delhi-based activist Rakesh Agarwal says.

Special Commissioner, Transport, K S Ganger said his department will ensure that all GPS devices installed in the public service vehicles are linked to department’s control room.

He, however, said they are yet to set a deadline for themselves. In a bid to provide more security for women travelling alone at night, the DTC installed 200 cameras on its buses last month as part of a pilot project. But the city government’s promise to provide marshals on buses, after the December 16 attack, is still unfulfilled.

A commission appointed by the Union Home Ministry had also analysed problems faced by women who travel late at night in the Capital, relying on public transport. The Justice Usha Mehra Commission had highlighted lack of  adequate public transport facilities and absence of coordination between police and transport department in keeping a check on drivers. It had suggested that the government must bring in more buses and cabs to meet the demand for safer public transport.

Mandatory verification
After the December 5 incident, Delhi government is considering making police verification mandatory for getting a permit or a public service vehicle badge. Till now, furnishing a passport or a character certificate from a gazetted officer was enough to get a permit or badge. However, even this might not help: in the  latest case rape, accused Shiv Kumar Yadav did produce a police verification certificate, but it happened to be fake.

And, the transport department did not check the authenticity of the document  before issuing an all-India permit for his vehicle. Neither did details of Shiv’s past come up for verification when he went for his driver’s licence.

Till some years ago, the public service vehicle badge involved a physical verification by police. This included checking the address provided, besides the antecedents. However, last year, the transport department made it possible for a driver to apply for a badge by furnishing a passport or a character certificate signed by a gazetted officer.

As per rules, every driver of a commercial passenger vehicle must have a public service vehicle badge, besides a commercial licence. The badges are issued at 13 zonal transport offices as well as the regional transport office in north Delhi’s Burari. However, data with police reveals that most drivers don't have a badge.

From January to November, traffic police challaned 37,095 drivers for not possessing a badge. This included 6,439 drivers of taxis, 3,157 of buses, 3,426 of Gramin Sewa, 706 of RTVs, 22,495 of autorickshaws, 838 of call centre cabs and 24 of Phat Phat Sewa. Police say most of the drivers don’t have licence issued from Delhi, and the badge is not issued for drivers with a licence issued outside Delhi.

Shiv Kumar Yadav, the alleged rapist, was operating in the city with a driving licence from Uttar Pradesh. His character certificate was purportedly issued from the office of Additional Commissioner of Police (South East). It was issued in May and had the signature of Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (South East) L T Hrangchal.

Interestingly, Hrangchal was transferred out of Delhi in February 2013.

The address mentioned in Shiv’s character certificate also turned out to be fake. A police team went to the address in south east Delhi’s Ambedkar Nagar and found that all the houses of the three-storey building had been given on rent – and nobody there knew Shiv. Police have arrested an agent from a finance company for allegedly helping Shiv to procure the certificate.

“We have traced a gang operating from Burari and will nab more gangs behind such fake certificates. A crackdown on such gangs will lead to employment of drivers with a clean background,” says Deputy Commissioner of Police (North) Madhur Verma.

“There is a shortage of public transport like DTC buses and cluster buses due to which people are forced to take contract and tourist buses who pick the passengers in violation of their permit conditions and the law,” says Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Deepak Mishra.

He highlights that although Delhi Metro has significantly improved the public transportation system, areas away from the reach of the Metro are a problem. “The DTC bus service becomes irregular after 9 pm due to which commuters have to depend on private buses or autorickshaws. There is not only a need for more DTC buses, but errant auto-drivers who refuse passengers also need to be punished,” Mishra adds.

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