“Work was already affected from the beginning of March and I didn’t have much savings to look after my family when the lockdown came into effect,” the 48-year-old said. “I took a loan and thought of working overtime to pay it back. But with the lockdown extended, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Drivers like me are in very bad shape at the moment.”
A major worry for most of the nearly 2.5 lakh drivers working for app-based aggregators, Uber and Ola, in Delhi was the payment of EMIs for their vehicles. The three-month moratorium on such payments offered by banks had brought a collective sigh of relief, but the extension of the lockdown means the cabbies will be out of work for almost three more weeks.
“We don’t have a salaried job or can work from home,” mumbled Rajesh Pal, 35. “Our livelihood depends on what we earn every day. Even before the novel coronavirus outbreak, drivers were working up to 14 hours daily to put food on the table. Thankfully, I received some rations from Delhi government, but there are other bills to pay such as my Rs 6,000 rent and water, power and cooking gas bills.”
The aggregator companies did extend some financial assistance to the drivers from the driver partner relief funds. But Joginder, 37, who has been driving with Uber for four years, said the money he got gave wasn’t enough. “Our company gave us Rs 3,000 which has gone in buying groceries these past three weeks,” said the father of two children. “My last ride was on March 19 and I have brought in no income since then.”
Jitender Arora, who has driven for both Ola and Uber for five years, narrated an equally dismal tale. “Ola paid us Rs 500 a week for the three weeks of closure. Even this we will have to repay later. Uber gave a few of us Rs 3,000. But these measures aren’t enough considering the taxis might not see a huge demand even after the lockdown is lifted,” said Arora.
While the Delhi government is providing a one-time financial help of Rs 5,000 to drivers of paratransit vehicles like autorickshaws, only those holding a public service vehicle (PSV) badge are eligible for it — and most cab drivers aren’t. Kamaljeet Gill, president of Sarvodaya Drivers’ Association of Delhi, said, “Nearly 60% of the cab drivers in Delhi don’t have PSV badges because they run their vehicles under the All India Tourist Taxi Permit, which allows them to ply their cabs in NCR too. Also, under court directions, they no longer need a commercial driving licence either.”
Gill said the state government should recognise that these cabbies too are in the same predicament as paratransit drivers and offer them monetary relief plus free rations and LPG cylinders. Else, as Sanjay Samrat, president of Delhi Taxi and Tourist Transporters’ Association, warned darkly, “The drivers will die of starvation even if they don’t succumb to the coronavirus.”
Outside the city and across NCR, a similar number of Ola and Uber drivers face an equally daunting future. Whatever their savings, they are now depleted and another three weeks of no income is a depressing proposition. Many drivers TOI spoke to said that since they own their own vehicles and are not employees, they don’t have the option of requesting salaries to support themselves.
The situation is worse for those who have migrated to NCR and are registered in Gurgaon. “If this state of affairs continues, my only recourse will be to ask for loans from friends and relatives if my wife, two kids and I am to survive,’ said Vivek Kumar, originally from UP’s Unnao. Unlike Delhi government, the administrations in Haryana and UP haven’t announced financial assistance for the affected drivers.
An Ola spokesperson, meanwhile, claimed that eligible Ola driver partners and their spouses were covered by insurance for a floater sum of Rs 30,000 under which those infected by the coronavirus can hope to receive a compensation of Rs 1,000 per day for a maximum of 21 days. The cabbies’ plight, however, is more immediate: survival even if they don’t test positive for Covid-19.