Shoot, load, aim!

Why do we shoot, load and then aim?

By Roopen Roy Dec 16 2014

Tags: Op-ed

There is a joke about what Indians would do in a crisis. A plane “crashes” on a desert island. There are two citizens of each country on board. Fortunately, all passengers survive and there are no serious injuries. The British are silent. They are not talking to other fellow passengers or even to each other as they have not been formally introduced. The Americans are frantically trying to connect to a mobile network to contact a lawyer in New York. They want to sue the airlines, the pilots, the aircraft manufacturers and even the authorities who had issued flying licenses to the pilots. The Germans are also trying to connect to the internet to Skype with Berlin to receive their next instructions. The Japanese are poring over the aircraft manual to try and repair the aircraft. What do you think the Indians do? They are forming an enquiry committee to find out who was responsible for the crash and who should be imprisoned. However, they are still debating who the chair of the committee should be.

The two Indian citizens were probably policy-makers or public administrators. I have always been intrigued how our otherwise intelligent, capable and logical administrators and policy-makers are in eternal search of the proverbial scapegoat. In the process, they miss the bull’s eye. Why is it that every time they lose sight of the real culprit and proceed to shoot, load and then aim?

Take the case of the serial rapist Shiv Kumar Yadav. This is not his first offence. He was arrested in Mainpuri in 2013 on rape charges but released on bail six months later. Delhi police have already revealed his involvement in another previous case of rape in 2011, for which he spent seven months in Tihar jail but was let off after they failed to convict him. Official records show Yadav has a string of criminal complaints against him, including two molestation cases, but he managed to obtain a character reference signed by a senior police officer that is alleged to be forged. This serial rapist has been let off the hook each time due to lack of evidence and his criminal records were carefully concealed until it all blew up in the media.

And what did we do? The Delhi transport department issued a circular saying all operators must obtain a license from them and “all other transport/taxi service providers through web-based technology, who are not recognised, are prohibited from providing such services in the NCT of Delhi to public till they get license/permission from the transport department.”

The root cause of the issue has become: Uber was operating without a license and, hence, the heinous crime came to be committed. Had it been recognised and licensed by the transport department there would have been no problem. Excuse me? Shiv Kumar Yadav has been molesting and sexually assaulting women from 2011 when there was no existence of Uber. Why was his driving license not confiscated? Why was he not prosecuted successfully and convicted? If his name was not on any police record in the public domain, how would any background check reveal his criminal past? Who allegedly forged a police document? Can an independent agency like the CBI investigate corruption in the Delhi police?

If Uber was callous or negligent then they ought to be proceeded against in our courts of law. No question. If they have broken any laws they ought to be punished through due process of law — no debates. But what is the central issue? Is it the safety of women in public or is it whether a foreign-owned apps-based ride share company should be allowed to operate in India?

I have talked to many young women, including my 26-year-old daughter who lives alone in Mumbai. They believe that banning web apps-based taxi services only curb their independence and flexibility. We are talking about women empowerment with a forked tongue. They have a right to choose taxi operators — not based on their ownership but based on their service.

Uber, Lyft and even Indian services like Ola and TaxiForSure are mobile apps-based “taxi” services. They are a new genre of disruptive innovation that customers love. In the west, here is how it works: Uber and Lyft have GPS-based apps that you download on your smartphone. You tap the app on your smartphone to request a ride. The app identifies the nearest driver. It tells you approximately how many minutes away your driver is. You can actually see the car approaching you on your phone’s route map until the car arrives.

When you reach your destination, the app automatically charges your saved credit card. The receipt for the ride comes to your inbox. You evaluate the driver. If the driver receives consistently poor reviews he is taken off the rolls.The driver works whatever hours he or she wants to. Layers of middle persons are eliminated and overheads slashed.

There may be bumps along the way. But make no mistake — this business model is here to stay. Public administrators cannot rule the waves of technology. If we foolishly try, we will certainly fail as King Canute did. Instead in our Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we must, like Hercules, turn the force of the purifying river Ganges to clean our Aegean Stables of corruption.

The central focus should be on women’s safety and empowerment and swift punishment of offenders.Our criminal justice system must deliver. Yes, we must sensibly regulate all taxi cab companies but let us not delude ourselves in believing that it is the panacea to the problem of violence against women in our society. More rideshare services like Uber will be part of the solution. Let us all work together to enforce safety standards. We should aspire to make Indian cities and towns safer for women. The central issue is women’s safety and empowerment — let us not miss the point.

(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India)