HC asks Karnataka govt. to hold one more round of talks with taxi aggregators to resolve issues on autorickshaw services

Ola and Uber have moved the court questioning Transport Department’s Oct 11 order; court says govt will have to take care of interests of all stakeholders

Ola and Uber have moved the court questioning Transport Department’s Oct 11 order; court says govt will have to take care of interests of all stakeholders

The High Court of Karnataka on Thursday directed the State government to hold one more round of talks with the app-based transport aggregators on the issues related to the continuation of autorickshaws under the app-based services, and the fare and the service charges to be collected for such operations.

Observing that the State government will have to take care of the interests of the general public, the app-based aggregators, and the vehicle operators offering service through the aggregators, the court said it would continue hearing the petitions filed by the two aggregators on Friday based on the outcome of the talks.

Effort to reach consensus

Justice M.G.S. Kamal issued the directions after the State Advocate-General accepted the court’s suggestion of holding another round of meeting (on Thursday afternoon) with the aggregators to “make an effort to reach a consensus, maybe on an ad hoc basis, on the contentious issues”.

The Bench was hearing the petitions filed by ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd., which is offering taxi aggregator service through Ola app, and Uber India Services Pvt. Ltd., which is offering services under Uber app.

The petitioners have questioned the Transport Department’s October 11 order asking them to stop offering auto services on their apps and directing them not to collect fares in excess of what has been fixed by the government under the Motor Vehicles Act.

Both the petitioner-aggregators have questioned the legality of the claim of the government that the Karnataka On-Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules, 2016, allows only offering of cars through their apps and not autorickshaws.

Fare in excess?

While denying the allegation that they are charging fares in excess of what is permitted under law, the petitioners have said they are lawfully collecting 5% GST on the fare amount (collected on behalf of the drivers), and GST at 18% on the service charges levied on the customers for the convenience, comfort and safety transport, which are all value-added services to the customers.

There is no bar in the rules to levy service charges, they have argued while contending that it is for the government to rectify the law if there is any ambiguity.

To a query by the court, the advocates of the petitioners have said that they collect service charges from the customer depending upon the fare charged to the class of vehicle booked by the customer.

The petitioners have said that they had obtained licences in 2016 under the Rules, validity of which is under challenge before the High Court, and had applied for renewal of their licences in 2021, which is still pending before the transport authorities.

Definition of taxi

An autorickshaw is included under the definition of “taxi” under the 2016 Rules as it says “taxi means a motor cab having a seating capacity not exceeding six passengers excluding the driver with public service permit on contract,” the petitioner claimed while denying the government’s claim that autorickshaws services cannot be offered through app-based aggregators.

Meanwhile, A-G Prabhuling K. Navadgi, citing the proceedings of the meeting with the aggregators, argued that one of them had admitted in the meeting that they cannot offer autorickshaw services on their platform. However, it was contended on behalf of the petitioners that they were not signatories to the proceedings.

Meeting held

Following the High court’s direction to the State government to meet the taxi aggregators and explore the possibility of reaching a consensus on the rate to be charged for offering autorickshaw services through their apps, a meeting was convened by the Transport Department.

At the meeting chaired by the Principal Secretary Transport Department, the representatives of the taxi aggregators gave their inputs which were recorded. The inputs will be incorporated in a report which will be submitted before the High Court on Friday, officials of the Transport Department said, without divulging whether a consensus had been reached on the matter.

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