Govt should have minimum interference: HC on app-based taxis

In response to the guidelines proposed by the Central government, the Delhi High Court observed on Wednesday that the government should have minimum interference in regulation of app-based taxi aggregators, such as Ola and Uber, and market forces should be allowed to prevail. Justice Manmohan even said that government regulation may “bring in corruption” in the emerging structure.

Last week, on court’s direction, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had released a set of guidelines prepared by the court-appointed panel of experts. The report was submitted by the Centre’s Standing Counsels Manish Mohan and Kirtiman Singh.

Among the key recommendations of the expert committee were facilitation of unhindered grant of permits for city taxis and the All India Tourist Permit (AITP) without any restriction on numbers, online conversion of compliant personal vehicles to commercial taxis on payment of requisite charges to facilitate use of idle assets, and no regulation on tariff of deluxe taxis, which should be determined by the market dynamics.

The high court said any regulatory mechanism must remain at the periphery since, as observed in the past, corruption can breed due to regulations. Justice Manmohan stressed that regulations should encourage everyone to embrace futuristic schemes that provide for the use of “clean fuel and cleaner public transport”.

The court then directed the state government to consider the policy drafted by the court-appointed panel and reply by the next date of hearing on February 6.

Even as it termed the public transport in the national Capital as “primitive”, the court told the government that “the policy will aid in finding a solution, so look at it with an open mind”. Noticing that the technology was changing faster than the law, the court had set up an expert panel to formulate a uniform policy to regulate companies such as app-based taxi aggregators.

The Centre submitted that if the suggestions were acceptable, then the various state governments could be asked to formulate a scheme under the policy for regulation of taxis.

However, the Delhi government, represented by Senior Standing Counsel Rahul Mehra, submitted that it would not follow the policy “blindly” as it had to consider larger public interest. Mehra added that since Ola had applied for registration, Uber should also follow suit.

Representing Uber, Rajiv Nayar said it would seek registration once the new policy comes into affect. Uber also objected to the panel’s recommendation to cap the fare they could charge.

Reponding to this, the court remarked that it wanted the Centre and Delhi government to be on the same page and come out with a model scheme.

The court passed directions in response to a batch of petitions filed by radio taxi operators against the Delhi government for allowing Ola and Uber to operate without any licence. At the same time, the two companies had filed contempt pleas against each other for alleged violation of court orders.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. Maximum tariff up to three times the minimum tariff may be permitted. Between midnight and 5 am, maximum tariff up to four times the minimum tariff may be allowed.
  2. City taxis may continue as street hailing cabs and may also be allowed to ply on aggregator platforms.
  3. AITP taxis may be allowed to operate for all purposes, except as street hailing cabs.

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