I have been told long time back a statement which aptly describes what a ‘Planning Exercise’ should be all about. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’. If you read it twice, you see the depth. But does the Government see it?
The main function of Government is to Govern, make Policies and Plan their implementation. Policies and Rules no doubt cover or try to cover all possible issues but the ‘see through’ mechanism needs to be effective as far as the Government is concerned. All the time it wants ‘everything in its place’ but seldom have we seen ‘a place for everything’ being ensured/assured.
The daily tug of war we see in our transport sector w.r.t. the taxi operators and taxi aggregators is a testimony to this. The old/staid Motor Vehicles Act is no good to deal with the disruptions what likes of Uber and the party bring to the ground. (It’s very similar to the mayhem in the Retail sector with ecommerce giants like Amazon and Flipkarts of the world changing the dynamics.) Where does this all lead to is difficult to predict but authorities, nonetheless will have to do the catching up all through. This has led Government, at both State and Centre level to stand up and take a note of the reality and here we have a Road Transport and Safety Bill in making. Just that, it has been in making for too long. Reason, someone tries to see through the pitfalls where as someone else tries to sabotage the entire effort, both sides having a reason, justified or not. So who suffers in the tug of war: the Aam Admi.
So on a given day when you wake up, you are not sure whether you would be able to see UBER or OLA plying or some diktat/order the previous night has made them illegal and then there are loopholes and the technicalities and the confusion goes on. Can we put an end to it, is there a better way to handle it? Trying to justify and please all, we end up annoying almost everyone. Today who is happy? Taxi Operators, Authorities, Public, Drivers or anyone? Who wants to live with this uncertainty?
Normally law is expected to catch up with a crime. So a new kind of crime has to have a new law to punish the offender. So all this while, post infamous Dec 16 incident, Uber says (and so does OLA) that they are not operators but only aggregators (or a market place) and Meru says that treat everyone the same way. Was it really difficult seeing all this coming? Where Government falters is, and almost always does, is that they just say ‘everything should be in its place’ but they fail to provide ‘a place for everything’. Not far do we need to go to find examples; be it parking in a market where the cops would not allow you to either wait or park and there is no parking lot either or government wants all to shift to CNG but there are not enough pumps to accommodate the current demand, forget the demand from current cabs under OLA and Uber whenever they agree to convert as per the rules.
Now off late we have been hearing a lot about otherwise an old concept of carpooling but being pushed by some multinational players in a more organized manner. Some prefer to call it Ridesharing, where we see a car owner who offers his empty seats to other willing passengers for an existing and pre-decided journey he is about to make against a small cost which actually is sharing of his trip cost. Do we see some disruption here? Yes, the take-off can be very rapid. We all see lot of cars on the roads with two or three seats empty. Can they be put to use? Can we optimize the usage of an asset and share the cost? Sure we can. But how many would want to offer and how many want to accept/opt? Many, if only the question everyone is struggling to find an answer is answered by someone. How do we ensure safety and security of the passenger? This is where it becomes tricky.
Who is to ensure safety and security and of whom? There is a law and order department and then there is fear of law and punishment. If that is not a deterrent enough then nothing is. Does it require a holistic analysis of what are we trying to achieve keeping in mind that these innovations and disruptions come as a package. For companies to offer them, they see the economic value and for Government to allow them, it should see the balancing effect of responsibility and accountability amongst the stakeholders and the benefit of public at large.
It’s high time we see Government inviting the stakeholders and discussing threadbare the pros and cons of new developments and offerings, be it in new products or services, put a timeline to such discussions and take pro-active steps to frame the appropriate policies, rules and regulations. Best avoided are the confrontations with the new age businesses where ‘Make in India’ or ‘Operate in India’ would lose its relevance and avoidable is the need for Judiciary to step in with knee jerk reactions to add to the uncertainty that we already have.
Let us see Government thinking through the policy making process and proactively incorporating provisions for the so called new concepts like Ridesharing before we face an unwanted scenario requiring another knee jerk reaction. Let the new bill take care of all that once and for all. Someone puts a timeline to it and someone remains accountable for it.
Finally important to ensure that ‘a place for everything’ is assured before you want ‘everything in its place’ and we are sure ‘Achche Din’ would arrive soon.
Ola and Uber