The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the app-based drivers in the major metropolitan cities across the country to penury – and it continues to be a bumpy road ahead of them in their struggle to make ends meet.
Faced with this reality, the union bodies of the drivers are once again pitching for financial support from the governments, while flaying their employee companies – like Ola and Uber – for “not doing enough in these difficult times”.
On Thursday, May 27, two unions, based miles away from each other in Telangana and in Delhi, demanded their respective state governments to immediately pay heed to the financial stress faced by the app-based drivers, mainly due to the lockdown-triggered subdued commuter movement in urban centres.
The Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee wrote on Thursday to Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to “take cognisance of the severity of this situation,” and requested a financial aid of Rs 8,500 per month for all commercial taxi drivers in Telangana.
“For the last one year due to the lockdown, their savings have dwindled, ration stocks in households have depleted and debts have mounted, while they are trying to deal with an unprecedented crisis,” the letter said. Telangana state drivers’ JAC is an umbrella body comprising of 20 gig and platform workers’ unions.
Among others, the joint body also demanded establishment of a Telangana Drivers Welfare Board and waiver of at least three months of Vehicle Fitness and Road Tax.
Telangana is currently under lockdown with few exceptions till May 30 in the wake of resurgence in COVID-19 cases in the state. Reportedly, the decision whether to extend the restrictions on movement will be taken post a cabinet meet on May 30 itself.
Also read: On May Day, Telangana Drivers Boycott Ola, Uber, Demand Compensation for Covid Infection
Shaik Salauddin, chairman, joint body of Telangana drivers told NewsClick on Friday that, till now over 700 “app-based drivers” in the state have contracted the viral COVID-19 infection. “Around 10 to 11 of them have lost their life due to the virus,” he said.
Salauddin flayed the ride hailing companies for the apathy they have showed towards the drivers during this period. “They are not doing enough for the drivers in these difficult times. Even the much touted financial assistance by the companies have only reached a small percentage of drivers,” he alleged.
In the national capital, the Sarvodaya Drivers Association of Delhi raised a similar demand pressing the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government to extend the announced aid to cover all the commercial drivers in the national capital.
Earlier last month, CM Kejriwal had announced a financial assistance of Rs 5,000 to autorickshaw drivers, all individuals holding Public Service Vehicle (PSV) badge and drivers of para-transit vehicles. The disbursement of this amount reportedly began this week. Delhi is under lockdown since April 19.
Kamaljeet Gill, president of Sarvodaya Drivers’ Association, while welcoming the announcement claimed that the announcement “does not cover all the commercial drivers”.
Earlier, to drive a transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class for commercial purposes, a commercial license was necessary. This was however altered in the year 2018 when following a Supreme Court order, the Centre had allowed the drivers to use private license for driving taxis and other light vehicles for commercial purposes.
“There are around 50,000 drivers in Delhi without PSV badge who drive vehicles for companies like Ola and Uber. We demand the AAP government to extend the financial assistance to them as well,” Gill told NewsClick.
Gill also criticised the “policy of imposing lockdowns”, without adequate “social support to the population”. “There is rent, EMIs and other monthly payments to cover even during the lockdown. How are we expected to manage all these without going out to work?,” he asked.
As far as the app-based drivers are concerned, he added that the situation “won’t improve immediately” after the lifting of lockdown. “It’s not as if the companies would stop charging us the commission. It won’t be easy for the drivers even then,” he said.