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For ‘influence in govt’, Uber pitched tie-ups to Centre & states – most remain on paper

According to records, the company’s public policy head Jordan Condo wanted Uber to “establish public-private partnerships with the government and have influence within the government invested in the success of our business”.

All the MoUs signed by Uber and the states either failed to take off or stalled after launch. (Express photo)

A year after the rape of a 25-year-old passenger by an Uber driver, the company signed a spree of MoUs with the Centre and many state governments – promising jobs to welfare schemes. Most of these proposals remain on paper, an investigation by The Indian Express has found.

Internal records of Uber executives, including emails, text messages and documents, obtained by The Guardian and investigated by The Indian Express with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, show that this was a key element of the strategy to control the damage caused by the rape and the subsequent ban in Delhi.

Records show that on April 9, 2015, then company’s public policy head Jordan Condo, referred to Central initiatives such as the Rs 1,000-crore entrepreneurship programme and the Rs 150-crore Atal Innovation Mission and asked his team to use “political capital”.

Condo, records show, wanted Uber to “establish public-private partnerships with the government and have influence within the government invested in the success of our business” — and “use this joint program to aggregate third party influencers (NGOs, business influencers etc.) to support Uber”.

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Subsequently, Uber reached out to the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment; Skill Development and Entrepreneurship; Electronics and Information Technology, and Labour and Employment, among others, in the Centre. It knocked on government doors in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Haryana, too.

Uber also signed an agreement with the NTR Trust, which is run by the family of TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu, who was Chief Minister at the time. And pursued a tie-up with car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki.

But all these MoUs either failed to take off or stalled after launch.

Consider the following MoUs Uber signed:

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SEPTEMBER 10, 2015: With TN to create over 30,000 “entrepreneurial opportunities” for independent driver-partners and promote socio-economic development. This MoU was announced at the Global Investors Meet hosted by the then Chief Minister J Jayalalitha in 2015. When contacted, a senior official with TN’s Industries department said “there is no project currently running” with Uber. “It might have happened during the investors’ meeting in 2015. But nothing of that sort is in our records now,” the official said.

NOVEMBER 3, 2015: With Army Welfare Placement Organisation (AWPO) under the Ministry of Defence to create opportunities for ex-servicemen and women. “The MOU was signed for six months…Uber was to provide vehicle financing. Unfortunately, the MOU was a non-starter as there were no takers,” an official said.

FEBRUARY 1, 2016: With NTR Trust to create 20,000 self-employment opportunities. Rajendra Kumar, CEO of the Trust, said: “Uber helped about 100 persons with driving training and these drivers subsequently purchased their own vehicles. We pursued and pushed Uber to do more but they did not respond. Uber failed to deliver on their promise. The MoU is not operational now.”

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FEBRUARY 5, 2016: With Union Ministry of Labour and Employment to tap the National Career Service (NCS) project. The MoU was signed in the presence of then MoS (Independent Charge) Bandaru Dattatreya, who is now Governor of Haryana, and then Secretary Shankar Aggarwal, according to an official press release issued at the time.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment did not respond to queries from The Indian Express on the MoU. Responding to an application filed under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, the Ministry stated: “No such agreement between the Ministry of Labour and Employment and Uber.”

FEBRUARY 16, 2016: With Maharashtra to provide training and 75,000 job opportunities over five years. The MoU was signed in Mumbai and formalised by the state’s Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Department. Deependra Kushwah, Skill Development Commissioner of Maharashtra, said: “Uber did not come forward to pursue the matter.”

MARCH 8, 2016: With Haryana at the two-day Happening Haryana Global Investors Summit 2016 in Gurgaon to develop cities and invest in ride-sharing services. An official in the Chief Minister’s Office, who is part of a team that monitors progress on all MoUs, said: “The MoU was signed but there has been no progress.”

MAY 18, 2016: With National Safai Karamcharis Finance & Development Corporation (NSKFDC). NSKFDC Managing Director Prabhat Kumar Singh said: “We trained 400 women but none of them took a vehicle through the Uber platform. The MoU was not fruitful.”

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Responding to an RTI query from The Indian Express, the corporation stated: “NSKFDC has not conducted any motor driving training through Uber. MoU was for one year that could be extended upto three years with mutual consent. After closure of the said programme, the agreement could not be extended.”

This MoU also involved Delhi-based firm Sai Prasad Green Power (SPGP) Ltd to “assist in bringing Uber onboard as an empowerment partner”. SPGP director Suresh Chandra Shukla said the programme had ended.

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SEPTEMBER 15, 2016: With Maruti Suzuki and another with National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) — both were announced by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship — to support a driver training project called UberSHAAN “to create 1 million livelihoods” by 2018.

A Maruti Suzuki spokesperson said: “(The car manufacturer) has been providing driving training to individuals and nominated employees/ representatives of different organizations through its network of Institutes of Driving and Traffic Research (IDTRs) and Maruti Suzuki Driving Schools (MSDS). The data of which organizations these people came from or joined after training would not be available.”

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An NSDC spokesperson said “more than 30,200 candidates (were) enrolled in training of which about 30,000 were assessed and more than 25,000 certified”. “Since the response…was not as per expectations, the project was deemed infeasible and was discontinued after some time,” the spokesperson said (see full response below).

OCTOBER 15, 2016: With CSC e-Governance Services under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology). CSC e-Governance Services CEO Dinesh Tyagi said: “That MOU could not be operationalised due to technical integration issues. Its validity has expired.”

SEPTEMBER 22, 2018: With Dr B R Ambedkar Development Corporation (ADCL) in Karnataka to launch a subsidy programme for the SC/ST category to purchase commercial cars under the Airavatha scheme. The ADCL ran the scheme from 2018 to 2020, which involved a grant of Rs 5 lakh to 1,000 beneficiaries.

ADCL Deputy Manager (Bengaluru Urban) Vijay Kumar said: “There was a tripartite agreement with taxi firms to utilise cars purchased under the Airavatha scheme by our beneficiaries. This, however, depended on the interest of car owners. Many attached their cars to firms providing transport services to corporates.”

MARCH 1, 2019: With National Health Authority for free healthcare under Ayushman Bharat for Uber drivers, including the company setting up common service centres. Ayushman Bharat CEO R S Sharma did not respond to queries from The Indian Express.

The records also show that Uber signed an MoU with Telangana on July 6, 2015 — just two days before the ban was lifted in Delhi. The proposed tie-up was to invest $50 million in Hyderabad for entrepreneurship opportunities and innovation — and collaborate with Telangana Academy for Skills and Knowledge (TASK) to identify and train over 2000 candidates.

TASK CEO Srikant Sinha said: “As far as I know, TASK was never involved with Uber. My team members say they came to know through media reports that an MoU was signed. None of us are aware of any role that TASK was supposed to play.”

Responding to a questionnaire from The Indian Express on the status of these MoUs, an Uber spokesperson said, “We partner closely with a wide range of stakeholders, including government bodies to unlock new opportunities that benefit driver and rider communities and help grow our business.” Jordan Condo, who is no longer with Uber, did not respond to queries on the email sent to the staff on April 9, 2105.

— With Johnson T A (Bengaluru), Varinder Bhatia (Chandigarh), Sreenivas Janyala (Hyderabad), Yogesh Naik (Mumbai), Arun Janardhanan (Chennai).

FULL RESPONSE OF NSDC:

“NSDC and Uber signed an MoU aimed at training youth and providing them opportunities on completion of training. As a party to the MoU, Uber was responsible for identifying and mobilising youth in its regions of operations to obtain training in Sector Skill Council (SSC)- affiliated training centres. Uber would also be responsible for creating micro-entrepreneurship opportunities on its platform for candidates who had successfully completed training. It had absolute rights over monitoring of the project to ensure activities were on track as per the MoU.

“As a partner, NSDC would provide full support in the implementation of the project including making available its ecosystem of approved training centres and training partners in identified locations. It would also provide information on updated national and global standards. NSDC could also provide support through its flagship Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme in approved training centres identified under the programme. Under the latter clause, more than 30,200 candidates enrolled in training of which about 30,000 were assessed and more than 25,000 certified. The MoU was signed for a period of two years, during which quarter and annual reviews were set in place to monitor the progress made. It could be discontinued if progress was found unsatisfactory. Since the response to the project was not as per expectations, the project was deemed infeasible and was discontinued after some time.”

First published on: 12-07-2022 at 08:04:26 pm
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