HC Rejects Firm's Plea Challenging Maharashtra Government Order Refusing License To Ply Bike Taxis

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and S G Dige said it found no merits in the petition of the bike taxi aggregator firm

The Bombay High Court on Friday rejected a petition filed by Roppen Transportation Services, also known as Rapido, challenging an order passed by the Maharashtra government refusing to grant it license to ply bike taxis.

A division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and S G Dige said it found no merits in the petition of the bike taxi aggregator firm. 

"We fail to see how any aggregator like the petitioner can lay claim to be allowed to operate bike taxi services without license or without compliance of the guidelines issued by the Union government," the court said.

The court further said the petitioner company had failed to demonstrate that want of a policy on a bike taxi scheme was an insufficient ground to reject their application for license.

"We are not satisfied that only for want of a policy, the license was rejected. We see no merit in the petition. We reject the petition. There will be no order as to cost,” the court observed in its order.

Roppen Transportation Services Private Limited (Rapido) had moved HC against a communication issued to it by the Pune Regional Transport Office (RTO) on December 29, 2022, refusing them a bike taxi aggregator license.

In its letter, the RTO said there was no state policy on licensing of bike taxis or fare structure.

The HC, in its order rejecting the petition, noted it would not be correct to say the rejection to grant the petitioner company license was solely due to absence of license. It said "there were discrepancies in the petitioner's application to the government seeking license."

Advocate General Birendra Saraf on Friday pointed out to the court the Maharashtra government had, on January 19, issued a notification expressly prohibiting the use of non-transport vehicles including two, three and four wheelers for the purpose of aggregation.

The notification cited public safety as one of the grounds for the prohibition. The decision was taken after a committee set up by the state government conducted a study to recommend guidelines for aggregators, Saraf told court.

The reason for rejection by the Pune RTO included non-compliance of requirements necessary for getting license, he told court.

Saraf also pointed out the petitioner firm had been operating their vehicle taxis (two, three and four wheeler) without any license.

The company had made a statement in High Court on January 13 that it will suspend all its services in Maharashtra till January 20.

The order was challenged before the Supreme Court, which kept it for hearing on Monday.

When the HC queried as to how the January 13 order could be challenged when the company itself made the statement, senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the company, told the court the present petition before HC was limited only to Pune but it was constrained to make the statement that it would suspend its services all over Maharashtra.

Chinoy specified the ambit of the SLP was only regarding an all Maharashtra wide restraint, even if this was made on the statement of the petitioner. 

The firm requested the High Court to consider its petition only on the aspect of the rejection by RTO Pune.

After hearing both sides, the HC said it failed to see how Rapido could be allowed to operate without a license.

As per the government notification submitted to the court on Friday, the government considers it expedient to prohibit the pooling of non-transport vehicles by aggregators in order to ensure road safety of the general public and passengers at large in Maharashtra.

The notification said it "is observed that use of non-transport vehicles (including two wheelers, three wheelers and four wheelers) as transport vehicles is on the rise enormously and raises serious practical and security concerns of the passengers and which may cause serious threat to the road safety of general public and passengers at large."

"The issue of whether non-transport vehicles can be permitted to be used as transport vehicles, including for aggregation and ride pooling, requires detailed consideration regarding terms and conditions, framework and guidelines," the state notification further said.

Saraf earlier told HC the government has also issued show cause notices to Uber in relation to their ongoing bike tax operations in the state.

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