A perspective on why Delhi High Court insisted that taxi aggregators run only CNG-powered vehicles

August 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Posted by
Siddhartha Pahwa
Chief Executive Officer
Meru Cabs

On 29th July 2015, the Delhi High Court passed an order that stated Ola should run only CNG vehicles in Delhi. This order is expected to be applicable on all aggregators and taxi operators. However, Uber has published a blog post on July 31, 2015 justifying their violation to facilitate plying of All India Tourist Permit (AITP) taxis with diesel engines in Delhi. In our view, it is an attempt to obfuscate the real problem i.e. Uber does not want to follow the clearly laid out laws of the land. This puts the health of the citizens in Delhi at serious risk. From 1998 to 2001, the Supreme Court of India had to regularly intervene and ask the administration to implement its order of running only CNG vehicles for commercial purposes in Delhi. The intent was to protect the health of the Delhi citizens. But unfortunately today for commercial benefits organizations are blatantly violating that order. Needless to say, the consequence of Uber doing this is that the health of the people in Delhi will continue to be at risk. Hence, we thought it is important to clarify what the issues are and why such laws have been formed.
Uber accepts that in Delhi there are 35,000 AITP vehicles running. Our estimate is that another 15,000 diesel cabs from other states are running in Delhi. Thus a total of 50,000 vehicles are polluting Delhi. These cabs run a total, approximate distance of 300 kms in a day. And, at an average of 15 kms/litre, they are burning approximately 10 lakh litres of diesel EVERDAY. What the impact of emission generated by these cabs on the health of the Delhi citizens is and whether the order of the High Court is in public interest, are the questions to be debated.

One of the obfuscation tactics used by Uber is to argue that the current Indian laws are not consistent with use of technology in the taxi space. How is use of CNG cars limiting technology? The court order has clearly said that technology is important and it should be used for consumer convenience, but one should not hide behind the skirt of technology to use diesel vehicles that impact health of the citizens. All existing stakeholders are following the law, and all new players should follow the law. Furthermore, to argue that there’s a need for changes to be made cannot be an excuse for blatant flouting of norms and the law of the land.
Uber states “All India Tourist Taxi permits are granted permit under Section 88(9) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Rules framed by the Central Government* permit an AITP holder to provide point to point service in the National Capital Region if the vehicle conforms to the mass emission standards irrespective of fuel type.”

Let me explain the legal position behind this misapplied quote from Uber…

    1) The Supreme Court in M C Mehta Case Order 26th March 2001 stated:

      “8.We direct that after April 1, 2001, no commercial vehicles will be registered in Delhi which does not conform to the order date July 28, 1998…
      10.We reiterate that except for the relaxation given above, no other commercial vehicles should ply in Delhi, unless converted to single fuel mode of CNG with effect from April 1 2001”

      It seems that Uber believes that AITP taxis operating in Delhi are not commercial vehicles. In the same judgment, Supreme Court also said –

      “Besides, directions given for safeguarding health of the people, a right provided and protected by Article 21 of the Constitution, would override provisions of every statute including the Motor Vehicles Act, if they militate against constitutional mandate of Article 21”

      The above judgment makes it very clear that only commercial vehicles which are driven on CNG can ply in Delhi.

      The reason why Supreme Court had to pass such a strict order was because a study undertaken by a Swedish Consultancy Ecotraffic (Peter Anvlik and Ake Branberg, 1999) highlighted two very relevant points:

      (a) More than 90% of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Respirable Particle Matter (RSPM) from vehicle exhaust over Delhi is due to diesel emission which is a serious health hazard..
      (b) Cancer potency of diesel vehicles is more than two times than that of petrol vehicles in India. But if only the most harmful of the exhaust emissions, that is particulate emission is considered the carcinogenic effect of one new diesel car is equivalent to 24 petrol cars and 84 new CNG cars on the road”

    2) Uber has conveniently quoted above Rule 16 of Motor Vehicles (All India Tourist Transport Operators) Rules, 1993. Let us also quote the Rule 2(g) from the same statute:

      “2. Definitions –
      (a) ….
      (g) “Tourist Transport Operator” means-
      (a) A company or an individual engaged in a business of promotion of tourism by providing tourist transport vehicles on tourist circuits; or
      (h) “Tourist Circuit” means all places of tourist interest situated in a state for which package tours are prepared and sold by the recognized tourist transport operator.”

Common sense and plain reading suggests that Tourist Taxi means a vehicle that is to be used by tourist for tourism. Delhi High Court Judge asked Ola lawyers, if I take an Ola from High Court to Supreme Court or from my home to High Court is this tourism? The answer was obvious…

It is clear that Uber would like us to believe that AITP taxis on their network (which are mostly diesel) are working for promotion of tourism and plying on tourist circuits as defined above!
Next Uber contends that AITP cars were used widely in Delhi. They probably mean that this gives them license to facilitate plying of AITP taxis for point to point transportation in Delhi. First of all, we disagree with this and believe that widespread (mis)use of AITP cars in Delhi started only after Uber and similar services started using these taxis for point to point transportation. Secondly, (mis)communicating to poor & barely literate drivers and beginning to use their vehicles for wrong purpose is wilful commission. Therefore, this can hardly be an excuse for Uber to facilitate any such practice.
The final contention of Uber is even more disingenuous. It says that AITP vehicles plied in Delhi due to inadequate CNG infrastructure. Thousands of other car owners and drivers in Delhi are running their CNG vehicles using the same infrastructure. All the black and yellow taxis, autos, buses, radio taxis and personal cars have been using CNG.
But, of course, Uber won’t!
They have been asking for a different treatment in the past and across the globe too. They were not complying with RBI guidelines on credit cards till they were compelled to do so. They did not comply with service tax laws till they were left with no choice.

So the questions are:
1. When will Uber comply with the Supreme Court order? Your guess is as good as ours.
2. Secondly, the question therefore is not about the interpretation of the law. The only question is, “Is Uber above the law?”