No, Kolkata hasn’t recognized Uber as a technology company

Quartz india
Quartz india

Uber, its customers and other taxi aggregators have cheered Kolkata’s decision to apparently recognize the San Francisco-based startup as a technology company, thereby bringing in under India’s Information Technology Act, 2000.

But Kolkata—West Bengal’s capital city and a heaving metropolis of 4.5 million people—has done no such thing.

Instead, the police commissioner of Bidhannagar, a suburb of eastern India’s biggest city, has issued a six-page order (pdf) to regulate “on demand transportation technology aggregator” firms like Uber and Ola.

Although the heartland of West Bengal’s fledgling information technology sector, Bidhannagar only has a population of about 218,323, according to the latest census data (PDF). And the city’s police administration is quite clear that the regulations don’t apply elsewhere.

“Kolkata is separate. This order is just for Bidhannagar,” Shivani Tiwari, a Bidhannagar city police official, told Quartz.

Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate, of course, is the same police force that in Sept. 2014 issued a list of tips for women’s safety (pdf), which directed them to “dress decently” and “avoid late nights” apart from remaining “well behaved.” The guidelines were later retracted.

Nonetheless, Uber is excited. In a blog post on Jan. 14, headlined “Kolkata makes Uber history,” the company had this to say:

Rajeev Kumar, IPS, Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar showed great vision by ushering in a new era of safer transportation and sending a clear message to the entire country that embracing innovation, supporting consumer choice and ensuring the safety of riders should be a top priority for governments in every city.

“Yes it is a small area. But it’s still a part of Calcutta,” an Uber spokesperson added. “I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.”

Uber and similar on-demand cab services have to develop features on their application that would allow riders to contact the local police station and share their location with five people, the order says. Additionally, every driver must go through police verification—something that the startup has been criticized for after a customer alleged that she was raped by her Uber driver last December in New Delhi.

Subsequently, Uber and other online taxi aggregators were banned in New Delhi, and now multiple operators are working with the government to find a regulatory solution.

Although Uber has been pushing the Delhi government to recognize it as a technology company—as Bidhannagar now has—it could also apply for a radio taxi license to get its cabs back on Delhi’s roads. “That is one of the options we would consider,” an Uber spokesperson said.

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