The Dharna Chowk at Hyderabadâ€™s Indira Park resonated with anger against taxi aggregators Ola and Uber, as hundreds of drivers of the two companies gathered for a protest here, as part of an ongoing strike.
Protesting under the banner of the Telangana State Cabs Association (TSCA), the drivers began with a rally from the Goushala at Lower Tank Bund to Indira Park's Dharna Chowk, where they set up camp.
Slogans of "Ola! Down Down! Uber! Down Down!" rose from the protesting drivers, as they marched down the Lower Tank Bund Road, blocking the arterial road. There was a visible sense of frustration and outrage among the marchers.
"We are the ones that brought the companies to its present standard when they had first come to Hyderabad. Now, they have turned their back on us. Why should we sit quiet?" one of the drivers asks.
"We are suffering heavy losses. Is this how the company pays us back? We have been sidelined for too long now," another adds.
Since December 30, a large number of cabs in Hyderabad have been off the streets. There are several problems that the taxi driversâ€™ association has demanded be resolved.
"When the companies first came, they depended heavily on driver-cum-owners. Many of us bought cars just for the job after taking loans, because they had promised us incentives. But after they started getting their own vehicles, we have been losing customers rapidly," says Shiva Vulkundakar, President, Telangana Cab Drivers and Owners Association (TCDOA).
"Initially when starting out, we were on duty for 12 to 14 hours every day, sometimes just sleeping in the car itself. Now, even if we sit for three hours, we are lucky if we get just one customer. On the other hand, the Ola vehicle gets three customers in three hours. It is unfair," a driver at the protest site says.
The drivers have also demanded that no new cabs be licensed until existing drivers are guaranteed a minimum of daily bookings.
"The managements should give us at least 12 guaranteed bookings during peak hours for the first five years of each cab,â€ť the association said in an earlier statement.
The drivers have also sought protection from the company, when incidents of miscreants booking a cab, beating up the driver, and stealing the car occur.
As they continued their protest, the drivers currently on strike could also be seen using the app to track other cabs that were still plying, to try and stop them from running.
Over the past few days, there have also been incidents of cabs being stopped mid-trip and customers being forced to get down. Last week, frustrated drivers attacked the Ola office at Kukatpally, after bouncers allegedly did not allow them inside the office.
Speaking about the incident, a cab driver says, "Now they have police protection outside the office. What is the need for it? Have you seen any IT company with bouncers and policemen outside their premises? Why are they afraid of their own employees?"
Raising slogans of "We want justice" and "Down Down", the drivers also carried a poster of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
"We were also part of the Telangana fight. We fought for our state. We were told that the rights of the Telangana people would be guaranteed and protected. Where is our CM now? He and his son (IT Minister KTR) are hosting big events for these companies, but they don't care about us anymore," one of the people leading the rally, said into a megaphone.
With the strike putting a severe crunch on transport services, auto drivers are reported to be overcharging customers, while Ola and Uber have allegedly started steep surge pricing.
Though the TSRTC has pressed more buses into service, especially along the IT corridor, it has not been able to ease commuters' woes.
Many more residents of the city have begun to rely on private transport, which has led to rapid increase traffic on the streets and jam-packed rush hours.
While the driversâ€™ association had initially planned the strike until Wednesday, it is not clear if they will resume services or extend the strike further if their demands are not met.
Representatives of Uber have condemned the strike.
"We condemn the forceful disruption to our services in Hyderabad by a small group of people who have threatened drivers and damaged vehicles, inconveniencing riders and preventing people from earning a livelihood. We remain committed to serving the city, and call upon authorities to ensure safety and continued operation of our services so that we can keep Hyderabad moving," an Uber spokesperson said.
However, there was no comment forthcoming on the demands made by the drivers, and whether they will be resolved.
A comment from Ola is still awaited.