On July 10, more than tens of thousands of drivers of taxi aggregators Uber and Ola protested in New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, demanding a grant of city taxi permit, safety measures and curtailment in commissions charged by the companies. Drivers in Delhi congregated at the Jantar Mantar, raising anti-government slogans, and said that the rising fuel prices and negligence on the part of the authorities had forced them to take to the streets.
According to the protesting drivers, the fuel prices have increased by 20% but the cab fares have remained stagnant, making it harder for them to earn a decent living despite working longer hours. “After the commission given to the private company and the additional charges that we are supposed to submit, the amount we save is very minimal,” Kamaljeet Gill, president of the Sarvida Driver Association of Delhi, told Peoples Dispatch.
“The central government, led by Narendra Modi, forced all the drivers to install panic buttons inside their vehicles which cost around INR 16,000. This button is useless, it never works. Initially, only the private companies used to charge us unnecessarily. Now, the government is adding to the misery. They are working hand in glove now,” another driver, Ravi Rathore of the association, stated.
The drivers are also seeking a bigger share of income and incentives from cab companies. They want the companies to provide them medical insurance and accident claims to ensure their protection during rides.
In the last one year, Ola and Uber cab fares have gone up nationally by 10-15%. However, the incentives for drivers went down by 30% during the same time. This, along with the rising fuel prices and the falling value of Indian rupee, has been a blow to the income of drivers.
“If the authorities of India will not address our demands, we are ready to bring revolution. Either the requirements that the drivers have put forth be heard and measures be taken towards resolving them or the authorities be prepared to see us when we hit the roads after August 15,” Gill said.
The drivers are planning a country-wide andolan (movement) in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow. “We will block major roads across the major cities in India. Enough is enough we can’t see our families living in penury.”
Earlier, in March 2017, thousands of independent drivers in Mumbai had taken to the streets against the companies’ policies. Organizations such as the Mumbai Taximen’s Union had also participated in the strike. Their main demands included a guaranteed business of 125,000 rupees (USD 1820) per month per driver, the reinstatement of blacklisted drivers, and the removal of company-owned cars. The strike later spread to New Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune as well.
Drivers also want authorities to restrict the number of drivers from neighboring areas. Another key demand is safety on the roads. In 2018, about 20 drivers were murdered in Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) during the course of their work. There have also been several reports of drivers associated with Uber-Ola being targeted and harassed because of their participation in the ongoing protests.