Finally, the Tourist Taxi Operators have decided to install the digital meters after the state government on Friday warned them saying that it will not hesitate to cancel their taxi permits for five years, if they fail to install the digital meters on their vehicles.
“The government will start installing digital meters to taxis after two weeks. The government is spending Rs 34 crore on digital meters. The government will install these digital meters to taxis free of cost. We will come down hard if the taxi operators refuse to get their vehicles fixed with digital fare meters. The government will not hesitate to cancel their taxi permits for five years if they fail to install the digital fare meters” said Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho.
In response, a senior member of the North Goa Tourist Taxi Union Association on Friday said the agitating taxi drivers are thankful to the government for taking a decision to provide digital fare meters free of cost.
But he asserted that the taxi drivers will continue with the agitation until Goa Miles is scrapped. The cabbies have been strongly opposed to the taxi-hailing app Goa Miles, and have been holding protests at Azad Maidan against the Goa Miles service.
A day after the taxi operators association began this indefinite strike demanding scrapping of Goa Miles, the app-based taxi-hailing service, the government made its stand clear statement that it will not bow to the pressure whatsoever, and will not scrap the Goa Miles service. Transport Minister Mauvin Godinho told media persons at the secretariat that the government is still ready for talks.
“But the taxi drivers are adamant. They will have to face the music,” he said, warning that the government will deal with iron hands if the cabbies resort to violence. The minister said the Essential Services Management Act was invoked on November 25, 2020, and it will be in force till May 24, 2021, maintaining that the taxi drivers cannot go on strike when the ESMA is in force.
“The taxi operators do not have any reason to go on strike as the government has listened to their grievances, and is still ready to talk to them. Any issue can be resolved sitting across the table, and not by way of a strike threatening to paralyse the state,” he said. Godinho claimed that the taxi operators have been opposing Goa Miles so as to avoid installing digital taxi meters on their vehicles.
Godinho reiterated that the transport department will not allow Goa Miles to operate from the Dabolim airport through a counter, as app-based aggregators cannot run the counter. The minister also said the impasse can be resolved if the taxi operators come out with their own taxi-hailing app.
“Goa Miles will automatically stop if the taxi operators come together and start their own app. The government is ready to provide them financial assistance to develop their own app. But the government cannot scrap Goa Miles,” he asserted.
On the other hand, the senior member of North Goa Tourist Taxi Union Association Prakash Purkey said, “We are not protesting against digital fare meters. In fact, we are thankful to the government for taking a decision on providing digital fare meters free of cost. However, we will continue with the protest until Goa Miles is scrapped. We don’t want any app-based aggregators in the state.”
The taxi union has held a peaceful protest at Azad Maidan. Their permission to hold the protest expires on Sunday. The union has applied for the renewal of the permission. The cabbies have decided to continue with the protest sitting at home if the permission is not renewed.
The taxi men maintained that their agitation does not violate the Essential Services Management Act, as they obtained prior approval from the district collector. “Ours is a peaceful agitation. We had obtained permission from the district collector so there is no question of violating the ESMA. We have followed COVID norms,” Purkey said.
“The permission is expiring on Sunday. So we have to see whether the permission will be renewed. If the permission is renewed then we will keep the participation of a maximum of 100 taxi operators. Others will protest peacefully sitting at home,” he said. He maintained that none of the taxi operators who kept their taxi off the road were forced to participate in the protest and that the protesting cabbies joined the agitation voluntarily to protect their livelihood.
Moreover, On the implementation of the amended Motor Vehicles Act, the Transport Minister said the state has decided to delay the implementation over hefty fines for traffic violations.
“These are pandemic times, and people do not have money to pay such exorbitant fines. We will take up the matter with the Centre. A few other states have also kept the amended act in abeyance,” he said. Godinho also said that he will also write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi explaining to him the current situation in the state, and why Goa wants to delay the implementation of the amended Motor Vehicles Act.
This clash between the cab owners and the state government has been going on for a longer period of time without any possible hint of arriving at any conclusion. While the government doesn’t want to amend their rules, the cab drivers also don’t want to carry on without getting their demands.