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The Ministry of Finance recently announced an extension of the moratorium period until 31 August, however drivers of cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber, drivers of black and yellow taxis (think Mumbai and Kolkata), and auto rickshaw drivers say the decision has not helped at all.
According to ET Auto, drivers' unions claim that financial institutions that have offered loans to drivers against purchases of new vehicles are demanding that loans be cleared and have resorted to seizing vehicles in case of a default.
Driver unions for Ola and Uber say that roughly 150 vehicles have already been seized, and that some drivers have voluntarily handed over vehicles to banks.
Mr Anand Kute, the Organising Secretary at the Maharashtra Rajya Rashtriya Kamgar Sangh said, "Based on the information that we have received from drivers, at least 150-odd cars which ran on Ola and Uber platforms have been seized during this pandemic."
"These include reasons for non-payment of EMIs before the pandemic as well. Around 75 percent of vehicles seized are due to pandemic wherein either the drivers have returned them on their own or were forced to return their vehicles," he added.
The unions also say that some drivers have posted advertisements for sale of vehicles via the union's social media channels. Driver-owners are selling their vehicles for less than market value in order to repay loans taken against the vehicles.
A majority of loans have been received via non-banking institutions, loan sharks, and small finance banks. Mr Prashant Sawardekar, the President at the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT) said he spoke with multiple institutions and requested for more time to repay loans.
He said, "Most of the loans provided are from such NBFCs like Mahindra Finance, AU Small Finance Bank and others. There have been times, in this lockdown, when I personally had to speak to these financial institutions asking them to give time for repaying loans."
Auto and taxi union leaders have said that drivers have been in touch with banks and smaller financial institutions and have been to repay loans via EMIs throughout the lockdown period.
Mr A L Quadros, a taxi union leader said, "I have got calls from drivers who have left Mumbai but were getting calls from recovery agents. I categorically told the drivers not to repay as the moratorium is in place."
Union leaders say that most drivers are having a tough time trying to survive during the pandemic. Some have multiple loans to pay against two or more vehicles, adding more fuel to fire.
Mr Gharat, a driver from Mumbai said, "I had emailed these financial institutions seeking a moratorium, however the second extension is not being adhered to seriously by them. I have been getting calls now and then that they will confiscate my vehicle if I don't pay up."
Financial institutions however, claim they have been following the moratorium and haven't engaged in repo activity. A spokesperson for AU Small Finance Bank said, "We have not engaged in any repossession activity during this period and will continue to maintain this stance till the end of moratorium period."
"Majority of these customers are paying the dues regularly on respective due dates. For the remaining set of customers, our staff has reached out to them to educate them on pros & cons of availing moratorium," the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for Mahindra Finance said, "We have proactively provided moratorium to drivers, unless they have specifically opted out of it. We have stopped repossession during the pandemic period and hence the question of impounding the vehicles does not arise at all."
Thoughts About The Auto, Taxi, and Drivers' Unions Claiming Banks And Financial Institutions Not Following Moratorium Rules
This is a tough situation to be in for auto and cab drivers. The number of passengers who use shared mobility has reduced to levels that are troubling for drivers. The government needs to address this situation as soon as possible.