Delhi High Court on Tuesday questioned how app-based taxi service, Ola, was operating in the national capital when the city government’s order banning them has not been stayed and warned that it would shut the company down if it thought it was above law.
“How are you operating post January 1 order? There has been no stay. Why is the ban not being implemented,” Justice Manmohan asked the counsel for ANI Technologies Pvt Ltd which operates app-based cab services under the name of Ola.
On January 1, Delhi government had banned the operation of app-based taxi services till they comply with the guidelines of Radio Taxi Scheme of 2006 which was recently amended.
The court, however, said it will pass interim orders on Wednesday when it might also put in place a temporary mechanism for running of the company, while it continues to hear the matter.
It said the matter needs to be heard as “it seems at first blush that the rules of the policy are not in tune with ground level reality”.
The court, during arguments, observed that it cannot remain a “bystander” while the company “pollutes the city” as its taxis operate on diesel which is not a clean fuel.
Justice Manmohan also observed that the company was taking an “extreme stand” that it was “not amenable to any condition”, instead of taking a balanced view and warned that he will shut them down if they take this “strident position” and do not follow the law.
“If you are going to take this strident position, not follow the law…, I will completely shut you down. I will enforce the January 1 order,” he said.
The judge also observed that the company was acting as if it was above the law and said if needed he will “bring them down to Mother Earth”.
The company earned the court’s displeasure after it changed lawyers and had sought time for taking instructions after addressing extensive arguments, and sought more time on Tuesday.
Justice Manmohan said that on last date he was requested not to pass orders as the company wanted to seek instructions and now it was seeking more time due to change in its counsel.
“Your clients are trying to take the court for a ride. It is very unfortunate. I have never seen litigation being conducted in this fashion,” the judge said to Ola’s lawyer.
“I have been pushed into a corner from where I have nothing else to do but enforce the ban completely,” the judge said, referring to Ola’s stand.
Ola has contended that it was not amenable to the Delhi government’s recently modified Radio Taxi Scheme as cabs under it already have All India Tourist Permits (AITPs) and thus, it does not need to apply for licence to operate in the city.
It has also said that as per the Supreme Court orders of 1998, cabs only had to comply with Euro-II (and now Euro IV) norms and switching to CNG was not a mandatory requirement.
It said the restriction imposed by the apex court was with respect to the age of the vehicles and not the kind of fuel used.
Ola was supported in this view by an association of All India Tourist Permit holders who have also sought to be made a party in the case as the livelihood of its members are also at stake.
The government, represented by advocate Naushad Khan, has taken the stand that while Ola’s subsidiaries have applied for licence, Ola has not.
The government said that present petition was moved by Ola after its subsidiaries’ applications for licence was denied by transport department as they had not complied with guidelines of Radio Taxi Scheme. It also said that cabs operating under Ola have to run on CNG.
The court on July 15, the last date of hearing, had said that it was inclined to allow only CNG-based cabs to provide point to point service in the national capital.
The court had on the last date also suggested to the city government to do away with the ban on app-based cab service providers, saying they cannot be blamed for illegal acts of the cab drivers, who were given AITPs by the authorities.
It had also appreciated such companies’ benefits, like presence of GPS for tracking purposes, reduction in number of private vehicles due to faster and cheaper availability of such taxis and their employment potential.
On July 8, the high court had set aside a Delhi government order that had rejected plea of Uber, another app-based taxi service, for licence to ply in the city.
The court had also told the Transport Department of the Delhi government to impose any condition on Uber, in accordance with the law.
The Delhi government had cancelled the licence application of Uber for not complying with the provisions of the recently amended Radio Taxi Scheme of 2006.
The amendment was introduced after certain app-based cab companies were banned in the capital following an Uber cab driver allegedly raping a finance executive in December last year.
The modified scheme imposes various mandatory requirements including having prefixed calibrated meters, a GPS device and running on CNG, on the companies for grant of licence.