Significantly, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has issued ultimatum to the private bus operators against staying off the road even after offering them an bailout package of Rs 15,000 per bus per moth for three months. Banerjee said the government would wait and see till July 1. If buses remain off the road even on Wednesday, the government would take over the buses under the pandemic law to run them.
With a sharp drop in private bus counts, travel trauma continued to plague commuters on Tuesday as well. Non-operation of Metro and suburban railway left the public transportation crippled. State transport undertakings (STUs) on Tuesday ran buses full throttle but the yawning demand-supply gap was evident during the peak hours. Long queues of passengers were spotted almost everywhere.
The CM has instructed the transport department to keep a close watch on the public transport scenario. “We will check out the status and let you know about our decision on taking over the buses on July 3,” she said.
Private bus operators, however, stuck to their demand for a fare revision even after the announcement of taking over buses. “In the current situation, our pockets don’t permit operation of buses. We have exhausted all our resources. We have reached to situation where many of us don’t even have money to buy diesel. If the government takes over our buses, we will have to hit the road with begging bowl,” said Tapan Bandyopadhyay, secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
However, many bus operators have literally welcomed the decision. “If the government runs buses, we have no issue. The loss is mounting. Moreover, many of us have started defaulting bank EMIs. If the government runs buses, it will pay the EMI. We will be relieved off the burden. Moreover, the bus workers will earn,” said Pradip Nararayan Basu, general secretary of the West Bengal
Surojit Saha of Bengal Bus Syndicate said: “We have to see under what section buses will be taken over. We have no problem if the government runs our buses with our workers.” Many bus operators also told TOI that it would be easier for the government to assess the challenges to run buses first hand. It would also be clear to the government “how reasonable the demand for fare revision is”.
Senior transport department officers could not throw light on the provisions under the pandemic law. “When the CM is saying it, there must be provisions in the law. However, we cannot elaborate much on this before going through the law. However, it will be a challenging task to take over the buses and run them on a regular basis. Private bus operators have a system to run buses seamlessly. It is a time-tested method and it is not easy to replicate their system overnight,” they said.