The Latest: Top stories of the day
1. The third phase of the West Bengal elections commences today, with 62 seats including seven in Kolkata going to the polls.
2. India ranks 133rd in the World Press Freedom Index, said Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday, adding that the country had jumped three spots from last year.
3. Shaktiman, the police horse that was injured in a Bharatiya Janata Party protest in Dehradun, has died.
The Big Story: Surge surgery
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal once again took to Twitter for his policy discussions. He tweeted on Wednesday that he will suspend surge pricing – that is, demand-based taxi fares – by app-based cab companies even after the second phase of odd-even rationing ends. Delhi's odd-even policy requires cars with odd-numbered licence plates to stay off the streets every other day. Kejriwal's tweet came as a response to a journalist who encouraged him to tackle surge pricing, asking, "Why should anyone get the licence to loot?"
Over the past few days, Kejriwal has used Twitter to promise "strict action" against these companies, alleged interference by media houses with a conflict of interest and nevertheless insisted "we are not against taxi aggregators". Kejriwal also had choice words to describe surge pricing.
However, the fact remains that his government has not banned surge pricing. It has simply asserted that taxi operators who indulge in "overcharging" will be hauled up. Police are actually detaining Ola and Uber cabs that are not on surge as well, saying the base fares are themselves illegal. Of course, Kejriwal's government is doing this same without any of the transparency that comes with clearly laid-down rules.
In his tweets, the Delhi chief minister seems to be opposed to the mechanism of surge pricing – which prompted both Ola and Uber to suspend the practice for the duration of the odd-even plan. But to be against the dynamic pricing model, which the cab companies claim makes distribution of taxis much more efficient, would mean cracking down on those undercharging as much as those overcharging: Everyone has to follow the fares laid down by the government, without charging less – as Ola and Uber frequently do – or more, which occasionally happens during surges.
While it is important to regulate prices in an industry that serves a public utility like transport, coming out against a dynamic pricing model makes little sense. It suggests that only the government can set prices that no one can go above or below, something the state is simply not good at doing. Karnataka has taken a different approach – insisting on a fare ceiling that companies cannot breach, without banning the concept of surge pricing. It might do the Delhi government good to consider this approach as well as consider what the aims and outcomes of its transport policy are in the first place.
Politicking & Policying
1. India and China agreed to jointly maintain border peace and continue with peaceful negotiations over the boundary, in the 19th round of the current dialogue.
2. The Uttarakhand High Court told the Centre that even Presidential decisions can be subject to judicial review, because the President too could go wrong.
3. The Navy follows the Army and the Indian Air Force in granting permanent commission to women, and will even allow women to join as pilots of maritime patrol aircraft.
4. India's imminent Massive Open Online Course portal Swayam will come with intellectual property rights that aim to turn into an exclusive international brand.
1. Events in Bastar are like a farce, one in which the state willingly participates, writes Ashutosh Bharadwaj in the Indian Express.
2. India may happily offer a strategic handshake to the US, but it will be one handshake among many, writes Narayan Lakshman in the Hindu.
3. New Delhi needs to be more involved with the United Nations Secretary General elections, writes KP Nayar in the Telegraph.