For app-based taxi drivers in Kerala, subjected to violence and intimidation by traditional taxi drivers, a recent Kerala High Court observation that they too had as much of a right to operate as the latter, has brought much relief.
Angered by the perceived loss of business as customer preferences shifted over to popular aggregator services like Ola and Uber, traditional taxi drivers had been attacking their app-based counterparts at various public places in Kochi including railway stations and the airport. Over 30 cases of violence against online taxi drivers have been filed thus far.
On a petition filed by C Nawas, an app-based taxi driver, the Kerala High Court observed on Thursday that online taxi operators like Ola and Uber have a right to operate at the airport, train stations or bus stations. This right, guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution cannot be infringed on by any other person, it said.
It also directed the state government to issue appropriate instructions to the police to maintain law and order.
The petitioner had stated that he registered with the online taxi services because of unhealthy competition in the conventional taxi services. But the conventional taxi drivers were attacking drivers with the online services, and obstructing them from entering areas such as railway stations airport parking areas.
The petitioner claimed that he was manhandled on February 24 at the taxi stand of the Nedumbassery airport, despite the fact that the taxi stand was, according to the rules, accessible to any driver who was transporting passengers to and from the airport.
The petition blamed the police and the Motor Vehicles Department for not acting against traditional taxi drivers, and sought a directive from the court to ensure that online taxi drivers could operate from these locations.
Speaking on the observations of the High Court, TRS Kumar, President of the All Kerala Online Taxi Drivers Union, told The News Minute, â€śThey [app-based taxi drivers] were being brutally attacked by the conventional taxi drivers at different places... Now, they are operating smoothly. No violence or disturbance has been reported anywhere since the order was passed. Thanks to the High court and thanks to the judiciary for upholding the right of every citizen.â€ť
Traditional taxi unions, however, are predictably not happy with the decision, and plan to appeal it. "The detailed judgement is expected to come out in the evening. We will study the judgement and then proceed to file an appeal against the order. We feel the right decision has not been taken because the court has not been made aware that these aggregators are operating illegally,â€ť said Advocate Madhu, Zilla Secretary of Ernakulam Zilla Car Drivers.