Delhi HC orders “peaceful negotiations” between Uber, Ola and driver unions

As the battle between mobile app-based cab companies – Uber and Ola, and drivers’ unions in Delhi continues on the road, neither party seems to be ready to back off in court either.

Hearing a suit filed by Uber and Ola in the Delhi High Court, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw today held that the drivers cannot demand anything from the cab companies except by way of peaceful negotiations.

The services of these companies have been hampered significantly since the strike began last week, with the protesters demanding better perks and payment based on the government sanctioned fare of Rs. 23 per kilometer.

On February 13, Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw had passed an interim order against the two drivers’ unions – Sarvodaya Driver Association of Delhi and Rajdhani Tourist Drivers’ Union – restraining them from blocking cabs of drivers who had not joined the strike.

Senior counsels Rajiv Nayyar and Dayan Krishnan, representing the mob-app cab companies, today stated before the Court that the incidents that were occurring even after the interim order passed by the bench were “shocking”.

The mobile-app cab companies had alleged in their petitions,

“The Defendants have inter-alia been preventing Driver-Partners from operating through the Uber app, damaging their vehicles, snatching their mobile phones and forcing passengers out of the vehicles.”

“The Defendants, jointly and severally, have indulged in inciting and causing violence and vandalism against the cabs plying through the Uber app.”

When the judge today suggested that the companies terminate the contracts of the people indulging in these activities, Nayyar responded,

“The problem is that they are stopping other drivers from continuing their business. The honest man is off the road. We have reached a system where unknown people are hijacking the city!”

Sarvodaya Driver Association of Delhi was represented by Abhishek Singh, who told the Bench that he hadn’t even been served with a copy of the plaint.

Singh further told the Bench that Sarvodaya was not indulging in any violent practices and that they were “peacefully” protesting after obtaining the requisite approvals from the government. He said they understood the repercussions of such acts since even they “send their wives and daughters in these cabs”.

These statements were immediately countered by the representative from Rajdhani Tourist Drivers Union who stated,

“We are not doing anything. The violence is being caused by Sarvodaya!”

Abhishek Singh alleged that the running cost for the cabs is Rs. 6 per kilometer, out of which Rs. 4 is for fuel and Rs. 2 is for maintenance.

Justice Endlaw simply told him that if he had better options elsewhere, he was free to go take it up.

In an interesting turn, another person claiming to be the “aggrieved consumer” told the Bench that it was his interest which was actually getting hampered in all this fighting. Justice Endlaw curtly told him that the Bench will hear what he has to say after he files an application to be heard.

After a long and heated exchange of accusations, Justice Endlaw ordered the two parties to have peaceful negotiations and reach a common conclusion. He placed reliance on the contentions of the petitioners as well as several newspaper reports that showed continuing instances of violence on the roads.

He stated in the order,

“The defendants have been informed that if the incidents of violence continue then the defendants will be the ultimate losers as the people in the city will lose faith. The defendants have a contractual relationship with the plaintiffs. If they do not wish to continue, they have other options.”

The bench also issued directions to the Joint Commissioner of Delhi Traffic Police, requesting him to ensure that the drivers willingly continuing the services for the companies are not stopped or blocked and that their vehicles are not damaged. He also allowed liberty to the plaintiffs to file an application against any persons violating the court orders.

As a closing remark, Justice Endlaw warned the counsel for the drivers’ unions stating,

“There are private vehicles available to hire. If the families in Delhi get habituated to that, your game will be over.”

The matter will now come up on February 28.