A JNU student said she was drugged and raped by an app-based cab driver. She was returning from a friend's house. The victim was found in a semi-conscious state near a park in South Delhi."
"A 26-year-old MNC executive in Gurugram said she was molested by the driver of a similar cab in Dwarka. She told the police that she was also forced to get down at a secluded place."
"An unregistered driver, taking bookings for a cab aggregator, allegedly raped a 26-year-old employee of a tech firm. He and the person whose name he was using to drive the vehicle were arrested."
These and many more such cases reported in recent weeks have set off alarm bells. Twitter and Facebook are flooded with complaints from women riders, many of whom allege that even the 'emergency button' in the app often doesn't work.
"I often take a cab to return home from the office. Drivers stalk me long after I have deboarded. They send text messages from random numbers. I complain to the customer care, but do not know what action they take," said a 30-year-old engineer.
A 32-year-old MNC executive in Gurugram who boarded a cab after a party from Connaught Place in June this year also had a harrowing experience.
"I was with a friend. He got down at South Delhi's Green Park. After I crossed DND Flyway, the driver pulled over and asked me to get down, saying he doesn't want 'a woman like me' to use his cab," she said.
The Delhi Police said they do not have segregated data on complaints by women riders. "We conduct, from time to time, review meetings with the traffic department on issues related to crime in cabs. Also, several campaigns are being run with cab services to sensitise them about women's safety," said Devesh Chandra Srivasatva, Joint CP (Southern Range).
"Immediate action is taken if any crime takes place in a cab and the aggregator is also contacted to establish the identity of the driver and the owner. In case any negligence is established, appropriate action is taken," he said.
COURT STEPS IN
On July 31, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to consider framing law to regulate app-based taxi service providers, keeping in mind the safety of women passengers.
The bench asked the petitioner, Nipun Saxena, to make a representation, along with suggestions, to the Centre on regulating app-based taxi service providers. Saxena said the court has given him four weeks' time and he is taking recommendations from victims.
"The concept of renting a cab is very risky as aggregators are running online quotas and do agreements with drivers. As a result, it is very difficult to put liability on an individual," Saxena said.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who is assisting the apex court as amicus curiae, told the bench that Internet-based taxi service aggregators are "unregulated" and they are operating in "vacuum".
She said that transport department is not monitoring the safety and security of women and that there have been incidents of rape in such taxis. "They (department) are not checking whether these taxis have GPS or not," she said.
The amicus said the apex court had asked all the states and Union Territories last year to set up at least one 'one-stop crisis centre' in every district within a year. But that's mostly not happened. A crisis centre is a community-based organisation that works to help victims of sexual offence by providing counselling and other facilities.
"As per the directions of the Supreme Court, suggestions to regulate mobile-based cab services have been submitted. Now it is the time for the Centre to implement them," Jaising said.
The court has directed all states and Union Territories to follow the Centre's guidelines and standard operating procedure (SOP) on how to record medico-legal reports in such cases and setting up of onestop crisis centres.
The idea is to facilitate access to an integrated range of services including medical, legal and psychological and counseling support under one roof. The court is hearing a batch of petitions filed to support initiatives on women's safety, after the horrific December 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder.
LAW HAS MORE TEETH
The new Motor Vehicles Act 2019 governs taxi aggregators and addresses the safety of women passengers. The law also holds ride-hailing companies responsible in cases related to women's safety. And if these companies are found flouting the applicable norms, they will attract a penalty ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 1 lakh.
OLA, UBER RESPONSE
Ride-hailing firm Ola said: "We ensure the safety of our riders. We also have all safety and security measures to help the rider in case of distress."
"In case of distress during the ride, help is just a tap away with the 'emergency button' on the right-hand side of the ride-tracking screen. On triggering the button, an alert is sent to Ola's 24x7 Safety Response Team (SRT), while ride details and GPS coordinates are sent to the pre-set emergency contacts via SMS and email. Customers receive an immediate call back from Ola's SRT which offers assistance and support to ensure a safe ride home. Customers also have the choice to connect to the police control room directly," Ola said in a statement.
Uber, another cab aggregator, said it will "unfortunately not able to participate in the story at this point". "We encourage you to reach out to us again, as needed," its email reply said.