New Delhi: Cab drivers across the country, who had entered into an agreement years ago with home-grown ride-hailing company Ola under its cab-leasing scheme, feel “cheated” after the latter’s alleged decision to “shut down” its leasing unit and sell the leased vehicles. This would be a double blow to cab drivers, who are already reeling under the impact of the pandemic.
The app-based cab aggregator, reportedly in a move to stave off competition, had launched a car leasing programme in 2015 through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Ola Fleet Technologies. Under the scheme, drivers were wooed to lease a car and become exclusive partners of the company for a daily rental payment - ranging between Rs. 700 to Rs. 1,150 - in addition to an initial deposit.
The prospect of owning the vehicle incentivised the drivers, which was leased to them after three to four years in exchange for a final amount.
Even as the programme “appears to be reasonable and profitable,” for both drivers and the company, “the real intention behind the scheme is cheating the drivers,” the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) said in a statement on Sunday.
The Telangana-based federation said this after alleging that Ola company has “shut down” its leasing department and “started selling the [leased] vehicles which are the bread and butter of the poor drivers who [had] already paid lakhs of rupees to the company.”
Last year, to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its drivers amidst a nationwide lockdown, Ola had decided to waive the lease rentals for drivers who were operating the vehicles under its leasing programme. As per the company’s estimates, over 30,000 such drivers at the time were all subsequently directed to park their leased vehicles with the company in the latter’s parking spaces.
Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary, IFAT, told NewsClick on Monday over the phone from Hyderabad that the drivers had been informed by the company that the leased vehicles would be returned to them after the lockdown period. “However, it was all a lie. The company confiscated the vehicles from drivers and now is selling them. The drivers, on the other side, having paid lakhs of rupees, now feel cheated,” he claimed.
Salauddin added that a majority of drivers across the country haven’t received their refundable security deposit as yet. Under the programme, at the time of leasing, the company charged those entering the lease agreement a non-refundable Rs. 4,000 along with a refundable security deposit ranging from Rs. 21,000 - 31,000.
NewsClick reached out to Ola company for comment over mail. Their response will be added as and when it is received. There is no official statement from the company’s end regarding the closing down of its leasing arm as yet. However, media reports that indicate that plans are afoot in Ola to sell the cars that it owned and were further leased.
The transport workers’ federation, meanwhile, is helping aggrieved drivers across the country and is trying to “bring justice” to them, according to its press statement on Sunday. “We are assisting the drivers in filing cheating cases against Ola in this matter in different cities,” Salauddin told NewsClick.
One such “victim”, as described by IFAT, is Hyderabad-based Jagadish Babu, who entered into a lease agreement with Ola back in December 2017 and rode the leased vehicle up till March 2020, after which the company “confiscated” his vehicle. Babu had, till then, paid over Rs. 8 lakh as daily rental payment to the company.
According to the federation, Babu came to know that the company is planning to “sell” the leased vehicles earlier this year, after which he, along with other drivers, had lodged a complaint against Ola company in September. NewsClick has viewed a similar complaint filed by a group of drivers in Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow.
Salauddin on Monday claimed there were “thousands” of drivers who were slowly coming out to take legal actions against the company.
“They all had made the daily payments, thinking of them as instalments; after all, the company had given them an option to own the vehicle after three to four years. But, now they are instead selling the vehicles,” Salauddin further said, adding, “it is a fraud committed by the Ola company, and the matter must be investigated, while the vehicles must instead be returned to the drivers.”
Notably, the federation is also working with the Central and the state governments to immediately bring in rules and regulations to safeguard the interests of the transport workers, he added.