Having run into rough weather ever since one of their drivers was accused of raping a female passenger in December in the national capital, the ride for the app based taxi service provider Uber has been bumpy ever since.
After the infamous rape incident which was all over the media, mainly because the accused had been jailed for a similar crime in the past but the company had gone on to enroll him without conducting a back ground check on him, many other taxi plying apps (including the fiercest rivals Ola and Taxiforsure) were banned.
The image of the San Francisco based startup which has more than 10,000 cabs registered on its platform across 10 Indian cities took a severe drubbing following the ban which was later extended to several other cities as well. Being a market the ambitious cab plying company would not want to leave, it being their largest market outside their own US shores, it has been trying its best to look for legal loopholes which will keep it afloat and carry on it with its operations in India.
The government, on its part, has not been too amused with the taxi haling app which continues to operate and even widen its base using such loopholes, the last of which was tying up with Meru last month.
The central government has been approached by the Delhi transport department to bring down the curtains on the Indian leg of operations of the company by banning its internet address once and for all, if they do not go on to get a licence to ply its cabs in the national capital.
The transport department which had, after the modifying some laws related to plying of radio taxis, directed all major operators to obtain licenses to be able to carry on with their operations legally. Ola went on and got itself a licence, but Uber did not bother about getting one.
Uber continued to maintain that it is a technology company and not a transport provider, an assertion which seems to have rubbed off some in the higher echelons of the department the wrong way.
Not too amused with this explanation, a senior official in the Delhi transport department said, “We have initiated a process with the central government to block (Uber’s) IP address in India if the company doesn’t abide by law.” [source]
“There has to be an end to the matter somewhere,” he added while elaborating that his department had given Uber time until February 25 to submit a revised application for a radio taxi licence but the company was choosing to ignore it, by sticking to its stand.
Zubeda Begum, the standing counsel for the Delhi government, is likely to submit an affidavit on Wednesday in the Delhi High Court regarding the method to be adopted to block Uber’s IP address. The aforementioned court had raised the issue of banning the IP addresses of companies which were continuing to ply on Delhi roads inspite of a ‘ban’.
If the Uber IP address is banned, it is expected that not only will their website go down, but their mobile app through which people book cabs will become unusable landing a knock-out blow to Uber operations in India.
If the proposal does indeed get through, this will not be the first ever instance of a foreign company’s IP address being banned in India. The memory of 32 websites being banned on grounds of national security by the Indian government in December 2014 is still fresh in people’s minds. Nor have we forgotten that this would not be the first IP address ban for Uber as well – a similar treatment was meted out to them by a Madrid (Spain) based court as well.
Pranesh Prakash, Centre for Internet and Society in Bengaluru, tells that, “Any state government department can request the designated authority to block a website. The authority has to then forward the request to a committee, which takes the decision.”
But once a ban like this is imposed and the IP addresses are blocked, getting them unblocked could be even tougher.
“A court order may be needed to get it unblocked,” says Pawan Duggal, cyber law expert and a Supreme Court advocate. Duggal told the media that IP addresses of a website can be blocked by invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act but the rules to get them unblocked are unclear.