In a twist to the alleged molestation case involving an expatriate woman by an Uber cab driver on August 17, the police have claimed the company had engaged Shehbaaz Shaikh, the driver, without verifying of his antecedents or residential address.
“Uber did not verify the residential address or criminal antecedents of the driver before engaging him with the company,” deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Satyanarayan Choudhary told HT. “Our investigations are on. We will initiate appropriate action for the lapses at a relevant time,” he said. The police have already written to the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to suspend Shaikh’s driving licence as well as the registration of the vehicle, a Swift D’Zire sedan, owned by Shaikh, Chowdhary said.
The police’s findings assume significance in the backdrop of the rape of a woman working with a finance company in Gurgaon by an Uber driver in December 2014. A Delhi court had sentenced Shiv Kumar Yadav, the driver, to life imprisonment in November 2015.
Meanwhile, Uber refuted police claims and stated the company had conducted a background check of the driver and had in their possession all his identity proof documents, which helped them catch him following the registration of an offence.
“We had conducted a background check of the driver through Frist Advantage, a global firm offering screening and background check of employees to employers. Moreover, we have in our possession copies of government verified documents of the driver, like his driving licence, Aadhar card, registration papers [of the vehicle] and the vehicle’s permit. In fact, those documents helped the police trace the driver after an FIR was lodged,” a spokesperson for Uber said, adding, “We had also submitted [to the police] details of all previous trips undertaken by the driver.” In fact, after a Facebook post surfaced wherein a friend of the victim narrated the latter’s ordeal, Uber had immediately suspended the driver from duty, the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Govind Saindane, regional transport officer, Tardeo, maintained he was still to receive the police’s letter. “But that won’t stop us from suspending the licence of the driver and registration of the vehicle,” he said. Asked if the RTO was going to act against Uber after receiving the police report, Saindane said, “I don’t want to comment on it as the matter [pertaining to permission to operate the company] is presently being contested in courts.”
Meanwhile, a source in the transport department told HT the RTO could not afford to initiate action against any app-based taxi service because they are not issued licences (or registered with) by the road transport authorities. “This is a new concept. The vehicles for hire don’t belong to the company which is an aggregator — facilitators for establishing communication between the cab drivers and passengers. In return, they earn a commission,” sources said. “We can take action against only those who have been issued badges and permits by us. Otherwise, under the Motor Vehicle Act, there is no term of reference for aggregators like Uber or Ola.”
However, the RTO can take action for any wrongdoing by drivers engaged by call-a- cab services like Meru, Easycab, Goldcab or Mega cab. “In these cases, the vehicles belong to the company that has been issued a permit for business by us,” he said.
Chowdhary also said although the SIM card was in his (driver’s) name, he had subsequently changed his address, which was not verified and updated by the service provider. Moreover, although the vehicle was meant to be a tourist vehicle (as per the RTO permit), Shaikh was plying it as a taxi in the city. “We have intimated those findings to the RTO,” he said.
The alleged incident took place on the night of August 17. The survivor, from western Europe, who works in the city as a doctor, called for an Uber cab at Pali Hill in Bandra (West) for a ride to Versova. Mid-way, the driver (Shaikh) stopped the vehicle at a secluded place. Under the pretext of cleaning the rear windshield of the car, he came to the back seat and allegedly molested the woman.
After the woman began shouting for help, Shaikh got scared and went back to the front seat. The survivor then jumped out of the vehicle and went home. The entire incident was put up on Facebook by her friend, who visited the Khar police station the next day. A case under IPC section 354 was registered by the Khar police and given the jurisdiction of an offence. It was later transferred to the Santacruz police station.
Shaikh was arrested on August 19 and remanded in police custody. As the investigation was incomplete, the police obtained further custody from the court on August 22.