In an unprecedented move by J&K UT Govt. under the able leadership of Lt.Gov. GC Murmu, the State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) has been ironically declared as the only Corporation/Organization in entire J&K, which is wholly responsible for carrying corona-free public on inter-district routes. It appears that the SOPs which they follow, regardless of the over-crowding of passengers being observed on most inter-district routes by SRTC, are the most unique and innovative ones in themselves. Height of hypocrisy is observed, when the Govt. plans to shield their defunct and loss-making corporation by giving credibility and onus to the SRTC to operate on 2/3rd seating-capacity for buses and 50% capacity for mini-buses on all major “inter-district” routes in UT.
The rationale behind furnishing the recent guidelines again for Unlock-2 version of lockdown regarding the Public transport holds, wherein Govt. assumes and guarantees that the Public which will ferry through SRTC will be corona-less and the same public which if commute through Private Buses for inter-district will surely get corona-effected. What an irony!!
Almost, all the industries have been given relaxation to operate under SOPs as proposed by MoHFW ,be it the Hotels, restaurants, Saloons, Barber shops etc. but in case of Private Bus Transport the govt. has dictated terms to ply the vehicles only on intra-district routes ( within the district only), which is ruthless and ignorant decision taken, without any consultation by the various stakeholders. It saddens the business community that the transporters have always been neglected by the previous governments and bureaucracy, who have considered transporters as always illiterate hooligans, who only try to get their unreasonable demands fulfilled through medium of strikes/hartals. The Govt. need to understand that the present scenario is different where the rules of the game have changed and the transport players are the not the same. Burdened by the numerous taxes imposed such as passenger, Token, penalties, permit renewal fees, late fees etc. etc. followed by the third-party rising insurances, increased chasis BS-6 prices, exponentially growing diesel prices have screwed the future of the aggrieved transporters of J&K, where already the road infrastructure and rugged hillyterrain have always inflated the maintenance costs of the vehicles.
Looking at the above sordid state of affairs followed by the current COVID situation, the transporters having vehicles stranding since last 4 months, have no other choice but to go on suicidal mission. The Govt. with deaf ears for transporters has not even realized that drivers and conductors do have their family to sustain, who probably don’t have much reserves to survive through this catastrophe.
It is baffling and astonishing at the same time that how a 30% hike in passenger fare along with the rider of 50% seating-capacity, would enable the bus owner to even cover the rising fuel costs, lest forget the break-even cost of operating. It seems that the Govt. has delegated the powers in the hands of various Deputy Commissioners to take the responsibility to manage the district affairs regarding the inter-district movement of public transport mainly buses, who have their own reservations without any fact/logic behind not allowing the interdistrict movement of public transport, where in at the same time SRTC is being allowed to ferry in orange/green zone freely. Is that the hotels, restaurants, barber saloons (with SOPs) will be only serving their respective district locals and will not serve the inter-district people who can come on private vehicles. Will those customers be barred by the respective establishments? If the answer is No, then why those same people belonging to same geography under strict SOPs issued by MOFHW, cannot board an inter-district Private bus vehicle and commute freely. “
The aggrieved transporters have time and again suggested few measures for operating public transport – “ In phase wise, few regular inter-district routes could be opened in green & orange zones with plying time restrictions upto 5 PM only. Even, the conductor/operator staff (after being duly trained and certified by J&K Health Deptt.), while booking/boarding the passengers, should use infrared thermometers, provide masks, sanitizers to travelling passengers. The bus staff could maintain the database of those passengers and submit the same to RTOs on weekly basis. Also, the Govt. could deploy checkers for stopping the buses randomly on routes to fact-check the seating capacity, as precautionary measure. As, the operators would already be operating on low capacity for next few months, the exercise would not create any hassle thereof “.
All this can be taken care by taking necessary precautions and implementing the guidelines to be issued by the Ministry of Health and family welfare in coordination with MoRTH, in letter and spirit. All the relevant stakeholders from JK UT Administration should apply a sound mind and take a prompt decision, as further delay in allowing the Private Buses to ply inter-district would definitely hamper growth of other sectors such as Education, Medical, Manufacturing Industry etc. where manpower mobility is involved. Sooner or later, the epidemic has to vanish but the losses anticipated, not even by the transport community but by the UT Administration as well, due to any further sluggish policy decisions would have a remarkable effect on our minds and economy.
(The author is Chairman -All India Deluxe Buses Association, J&K Chapter)