2017 began on mode revolt for the cab drivers of Telangana. But little came out of the five-day-long strike from December 31.
Alleging that Ola and Uber, the cab aggregators they worked for, employed unfair terms and did not pay them their due, the drivers had a list of demands for the taxi aggregators. However, the protest did not evoke a response from the cab services.
The strike was called off but the cab drivers were far from satisfied. On Friday, they resumed the protest by "begging" on a street in Jubilee Hills checkpost in Hyderabad with their list of demands.
âWe are living the life of beggars, that's why we were begging yesterday,â said Shiva Vulkundakar, president of Telangana Cab Drivers and Owners Association (TCDOA).
The drivers had earlier demanded that no new cabs be licensed until existing drivers are guaranteed a minimum of daily bookings.
âWe get incentive if we complete 18 bookings a day, but even after staying online for 21 hours we hardly manage to get five bookings a day. Not just that, even if we manage to do 15 booking a day, after hitting this number, they block our id, so that we fail to achieve the target. If we get four stars instead of five, from a customer they cut incentive. This is unfair. We work all day, stay online 24 hours. We have to carry bedsheet, tooth brush and spare clothes in our car so that we donât miss any booking but we are hardly getting any,â claimed Prabhakar Reddy, one of the protesters.
On Saturday, the striking drivers decided to cook food next to Kukatpally Forum Mall as part of their protest. However, the police did not allow them near the mall with cooking utensils. Following this, more than 200 cab drivers gathered near the KPHB Circle in Kukatpally with plates full of rice and sambar and staged a protest.
âWe cooked the food at a nearby empty space as the police asked us to go away from there, now we have brought the rice and sambar to eat food on the street,â Shiva, a protester, said.
âUber, Ola, wrong! Wrong!â shouted the group.
âSome of us don't have enough food at home and we hardly get time for our family. Every day, we skip meals. By eating on the road, we are trying show our plight to people,â said Suresh, the General Secretary of the association.
Suresh has been working with Uber for the past two years.
âThey promised to pay us almost a lakh per month. After I joined, everything was fine for a few months. Then they reduced the salary to Rs 90,000 then Rs 70,000 and then Rs 60,000. Out of this amount, 25% is their commission. Out of the remaining amount, more than 50% goes for paying the EMI of the car, maintenance and petrol. How much we are left with? Nothing. With that limited money I have to pay my rent, and the school fees of my daughter,â he said.
Suresh has not been able to pay his EMI for the past two months.
âThe finance people stand in front of my house, asking for EMI money, I donât have any money to pay. I leave home early morning and come back at midnight. I hardly get time with my daughter and wife. This has become my life after joining Uber,â he explained.
Though the association members have not received any response from Ola and Uber, they are steadfast that the protests will continue till they get justice.
âWe donât want any new person to join these fraud companies. By protesting we want to tell people not to fall for their offers. We donât want anybody else to struggle for daily needs. Ola and Uber advertise, âwork with us and earn more than Rs.70,000â. It is all a lie. They donât tell you about other expenses and people join the company in order to earn more and live a better life but their condition becomes like that of a beggar,â said Shiva.
Several drivers present at the protest said that their earnings have drastically come down, and that they are unable to even pay for their daily needs at home.
âI am so ashamed to go home. For the past five days, I have just been going home and giving one packet of bread to my wife and son. I donât even have enough money to buy rice and dal for my family. Our situation has come down to this now,â said Mahendra, one of the protesters.
âWe have AC cars but no food or money,â added another, pointing out the irony in the situation.
The association also alleged that many of the drivers were not taken back to work after the five-day protest conducted on December 30 to January 5.
âThey are asking drivers to sign on a paper which says that they will not participate in any protest and will accept their rules. They also asked them to complain against the association members. Only after they sign the paper, they unblock their accounts. When we asked the officials to talk, they restricted our entry at the office,â said Shiva.
Ramu, one of the drivers, says he has been facing a financial crisis after Ola stopped giving sufficient bookings to him. He used to work at a HDFC collection agency, before he joined Ola seven months ago.
He had sold all his wifeâs gold to pay for the down payment of the car.
âI failed to pay the EMI for the past three months. Yesterday, the finance company took my car. Now my car is gone and the gold, too. My previous job was better, at least I used to get Rs 20,000,â he said.
Meanwhile, within half-an-hour of the protest beginning, around 12 police personnel reached the protest venue. They dragged the protesters away and took them into preventive custody.
âThey were protesting at a junction, and we even warned them,â said one of the policeman, when asked why the protesters were being picked up.