IN ITS chargesheet filed earlier this month, the Mumbai Police said 33 app-based cab drivers, other than the three arrested for manipulating software to hike fares, also manipulated the app to illegally hike fares at various levels.
While the chargesheet that runs into over 400 pages has charged three persons, it has also mentioned another 33 cab drivers who also did the same. While three drivers were arrested, police said they were still in the process of gathering evidence against the others.
The three accused, who were arrested on November 1 and charged under sections of cheating and common intention, are alleged mastermind Ashish Panchal (37), Rajesh Acharya (42) and Afzal Shah (39).
As part of its probe, investigating officer Assistant Inspector Jayesh Thakur tracked the fares of 36 cabs affiliated to Ola for two years between January 1, 2019 and December 15, 2020 across Mumbai. Police said they calculated cases in which there was substantial difference in the estimated price displayed when a cab was booked and the actual fare charged at the drop off.
Police also said they found that over the two years, the difference between estimated and actual fares of these 36 cabs was Rs 31,44,489, which in terms of percentage is a hike of 17.96 per cent above the legitimate fare. Of this around 20 per cent, that is, Rs 6,28,897 went to Ola, they added.
“However, it does not mean that this entire amount was illegally hiked. In some cases, a customer could ask the driver to extend the ride to some other place. This could lead to a higher actual fare vis-a-vis the estimated price displayed for the initial destination by the app,” a senior officer said.
Police, however, said a certain section of this hike was due to drivers switching the older version of the Ola app on and off while driving below bridges or flyovers. Due to the glitch in the app, it would show the cab was below a bridge even if it was on top of it. As a result, switching it on and off while crossing bridges would force the app to recalculate and increase the distance covered, leading to increase in the actual fare.
Ola did not respond to a media query sent by The Indian Express on revelations made in the chargesheet.
In the chargesheet, police said it was Acharya who first spotted the loophole and informed other cab drivers. He also ensured that the Ola app on his phone was not updated as newer versions did not have the bug, and he would then charge money to provide the older version of the app to other cab drivers.
The scam came to light after a team of the Crime Branch (Unit 1) received a tip-off about the operation at Mumbai airport, mainly on trips to Panvel. Eventually, when police found the cab drivers tinkering with the apps, the three accused were arrested on November 1.
In the chargesheet submitted before the court, police have attached the statements of seven passengers, who were cheated in a similar manner. Police also said they were still investigating into whether any Ola employee was involved.
“If we find the involvement of any employee, we will be filing a second chargesheet. We are also trying to gather evidence against the other cab drivers involved in the scam and may name them in the second chargesheet,” a senior officer added.
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