NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Uber taxi driver held on suspicion of raping a passenger in India is a career criminal who was out on bail for sexually assaulting a woman, the Delhi police said, raising fresh concern about the safety of using the popular U.S. cab company.
Madhur Verma, a deputy commissioner with the Delhi police, said that Shiv Kumar Yadav, 32, had charges dating back more than a decade. Yadav’s offences include robbery, molestation and possessing an unlicensed firearm.
Verma said on his twitter page on Tuesday that Yadav was a “big time rogue” in his home town of Mainpuri, in Uttar Pradesh. On Monday, a Delhi court remanded Yadav in custody for three days.
The attack has highlighted the failure to regulate the booming market for app-based taxi services in India, the lack of screening of drivers by Uber, the incompetence of law enforcement agencies, and just how easy it is to obtain forged character references.
The case has triggered protests, questions in parliament and reignited a debate about the safety of women in Asia’s third-largest economy, especially in New Delhi, which has been dubbed India’s rape capital.
Yadav is charged with raping a woman in Mainpuri about 200 km southeast of New Delhi last year. Police had wanted to keep him in jail, but he was granted bail.
Public outrage has been fuelled further by Uber acknowledging that it does not carry out background checks on drivers. Instead, the company relies on the government to perform such checks when issuing commercial licences.
Uber drivers told Reuters they were only asked for their driving licence, proof of address and car registration documents. One driver said he was never interviewed by Uber and the travel company where he works completed all the formalities on his behalf.
Those interviewed said Uber asked questions about criminal records and relied on government documents for verification, a sharp contrast from the three-step screening in the United States, where court records are checked going back seven years.
Uber did not respond to an emailed request for comment on its drivers’ statements.
The central government has requested that all state governments ban Uber and all other unregistered, web-based taxi companies from operating due to passenger safety concerns.
The move in India was followed by separate government and court actions against Uber in Thailand, Spain and the United States on a variety of issues.
It is the biggest regulatory challenge yet for the company that was valued at $40 billion last week after its latest funding round ahead of an expected initial public offering.
India is the second-largest market after the United States for Uber by number of cities covered. It operated in 11 cities in India, including New Delhi, before the rape allegations.
Hyderabad banned Uber from operating on Wednesday two days after the New Delhi government also blacklisted the firm. The service is still working in other cities such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore, and Kolkata.
Critics say Uber is being punished for the state’s failings.
“In an age where you have a lot of private players providing public service, you need regulatory mechanisms in place from the state,” said Sandeep Shastri, a professor of political science at Jain University.
“Uber should not become a mask to hide the failure of the government and other oversight mechanisms.”
After the rape was reported, police struggled to find the Delhi office from which Uber had been operating for several months. The officers had to download the app themselves, hire a driver and ask him to take them to the head office.
Uber drivers estimate the company has anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 drivers in Delhi. On Wednesday, hundreds of drivers were angry at being left without work.
“Why punish all the drivers?” asked Dinesh Singh Rawat, who earned 80,000 rupees a month from Uber. “How will I take care of my family?”
Uber sent a text message to its Delhi drivers, promising to pay them by Friday.
Writing by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by John Chalmers and Robert Birsel