The New Delhi state government on Monday banned Uber, the popular U.S.-based car service, after one of its drivers appeared in court on suspicion of sexually assaulting a passenger in the Indian capital over the weekend.
Indian news media also reported that the driver, 32-year-old Shiv Kumar Yadav, spent seven months in jail in 2011 on rape charges before being acquitted after investigators found discrepancies in the victim’s story. In both instances, Yadav was accused of driving a female passenger to a secluded area, climbing into the backseat and forcing himself upon her.
Yadav appeared in court in New Delhi on Monday and was ordered into police custody for three days for questioning,
The Delhi state government said Uber, the San Francisco company that allows customers to hail cars using a mobile app, did not have the required permits to operate taxis in the capital region and accused it of “misleading” customers. Police say the company did not conduct an adequate background check on the driver and that his car did not have a GPS tracking system installed, as required by law.
However, Delhi police also came under fire Monday after news media reported that authorities had signed a so-called character certificate for Yadav in May, around the time he began driving for Uber. The certificate, seen by Indian news channels, said Yadav was not linked to any crime and made no mention of the 2011 rape charges.
“It is still being investigated whether the culprit is a repeat offender,” a Delhi police spokesman, Rajan Bhagat, said in an interview.
Late Monday, Delhi police commissioner B.S. Bassi said the certificate being circulated online was fake, according to the Times of India.
Uber has said it is cooperating fully in the investigation, but CEO Travis Kalanick issued a statement Monday that sought to deflect some blame to the Delhi government.
“We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs,” Kalanick said.
Uber, which was recently valued at $40 billion, launched in New Delhi one year ago as part of a major global expansion. With its GPS-enabled app and customer ratings system for drivers, the service billed itself as a safer transport alternative in a city that has a reputation for being dangerous for women.
Two years ago, a woman was gang-raped and fatally beaten on a bus traveling in New Delhi in a case that earned worldwide notoriety and prompted changes to India’s sexual assault laws.
But Uber, which has also faced allegations of sexual assault against its drivers in the United States, was operating in India on a shoestring, with just a handful of employees in each of the 11 cities in which it has taxis. While Uber says all its rides in India are traced via GPS, Indian investigators say that Yadav was able to shut down GPS tracking by turning off his company-issued mobile phone.
The Indian Express newspaper said that after the victim reported the crime early Saturday, the Delhi state government’s deputy police commissioner, Madhur Verma, could not locate a local number for the company. Verma downloaded the Uber app and booked a car to take it to the company’s offices in a New Delhi suburb, the newspaper reported.
Delhi transport official Satish Mathur said Yadav’s taxi was operating with an All-India Permit, which does not allow it to pick up and drop off passengers within the capital’s city limits, according to the Economic Times newspaper. Mathur said that under state transport laws, the taxi company is responsible for screening drivers.
Yadav is accused of assaulting a 27-year-old woman who hired his taxi late Friday night in New Delhi following a dinner with friends and then dozed off in the backseat.
The woman told police that she awoke to find the driver had rerouted to a secluded area and that he then raped her in the backseat. She captured a cellphone picture of the cab’s license plate with her mobile phone and shared it with police, who arrested Yadav on Sunday evening in his hometown of Mathura, about 100 miles south of New Delhi.
Special correspondent Parth M.N. reported from Mumbai and Times staff writer Bengali from Kathmandu, Nepal.