States are limping towards normalcy with Lockdown 4.0 from 18 May. Two-wheelers and four-wheelers are plying in green, orange, and red zones. These ease of restrictions should not be necessarily translating to a return to normalcy. Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the people who are at the lowest rung of the value chain. One section of workers is the application based cab aggregators – Ola, Uber, etc. These drivers have been taken off streets because of the nationwide lockdown from 24 March. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantining are terms which have been used the most over the past two months, however, these terms are an extreme luxury in its true sense available to a very small privileged group of people in Urban India.
Ride hailing app-based drivers were the firsts to change the notion of informal work in India. These platform companies connect the driver and customer by claiming a certain amount of cut money. However, the driver enrolled and working for these applications are not workers but are independent contractors and are thus not entitled to any employee-related benefits. Any driver has the liberty to login and logout as they will, and the driver can choose their own working hours. More number of hours translates to more income though not significantly proportional. For these drivers became the face of an oppressed section of people gradually entering into the cohort of a low middle-class section of citizens who have an income of 30,000-40,000 a month and also own a vehicle. There also exist many drivers who don’t own vehicles and it is locally termed as “owner cum driver” cars.
Ajit Sharma- driver(name changed) said that the owner of the car had received a sum of Rs 2000 from an app-based cab company, but the owner did not give it to him because allegedly the company after a period of 45 days is going to take back the lent out some of the money in installments of Rs500. This is not a relief for the drivers as post the lockdown the class of people using these ride-hailing services as customers would still for a significant period of the time prefer to “Stay Home and Stay Safe”.
Mohit Kumar(name changed) working for another app company said that very selectively a relief package of Rs 3000 was dispersed for the drivers. He said among his friends a group of 15 people only one has received the money. Jaganath K. (name changed) alleged that the ones with more than 4.7 ratings on the App got the benefit of relief. Another app did have a grain distribution campaign which gave the drivers 5kg Aata, 2Kg Dal and salt. This amount of grain would only suffice for a week in a lockdown of 2 months.
Karnataka government financial package promised Rs5000 to cab and auto drivers each. Three drivers on a phonecall said that they did not receive any sort of relief. Their anxiousness had surged as they said for the past two months they have not heard anything from the platform company whom they consider to be their employer.
Most of these drivers were progressing towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) Pre-Covid-19 also. By buying their own cars even though on EMIs, and agreeing to work in conditions which are not guided by being dependent on employers for medical or other work-related benefits. In times of Pandemic, if self-reliance is the motto, the State should also keep significant checks to see that the tools for being self-reliant are implemented or not. The extreme financial crisis might also push these drivers to sell off their cars and start working for other exploitative employers. If the Government is looking forward to invoking entrepreneurialism among the masses the drivers are in the frontline to get its benefits. As many are still worried and thinking about being out in the streets all day long and risking their lives.
Sreeja Dutta is a second-year student of Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.