Two days after a go-ahead from the Left Front, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government on Tuesday announced an across-the-board hike in fares for taxis, buses, minibuses, trams and ferry services in Calcutta, Howrah and elsewhere in Bengal.
Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty announced a minimum 10 per cent hike in public transport fares in the Assembly, amid protests from the Opposition and consumer groups.
The new fare structure, that will also rework the various stages of fares, will be put into effect from April 1, Chakraborty said, citing the escalation in prices of fuel as justification for the fare hike.
“We are compelled to take a decision on an upward revision of transport fares. There is no option left to us, considering the circumstances that have arisen after the recent hike in high-speed diesel and motor spirit prices,” said Chakraborty.
Opposition legislators, mainly Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, with the Congress and the Suci, staged walkouts in phases, accusing the government of playing into the hands of the transport operators and owners, while overlooking the interests of the commuters. They demanded a withdrawal of the revised fare structure.
A transport user’s lobby, the Council of Consumer Guidance Centre, slammed the government for restructuring the fares without wider consultations, as recommended by a court ruling. “It (the hike) is unacceptable, unscientific and arbitrary,” said centre secretary A. Karmakar.
Minister Chakraborty, defending the new structure, said: “The prices of fuel went down thrice, only to go up 10 times in the past seven months. So, in a way, the hike was unavoidable.”
He clarified, however, that the new fares would not “hit ordinary passengers. The fares have been framed so that the maximum hike is not more than 10 per cent of the existing rates at any stage,” said Chakraborty.
The minister also announced that his government was considering the introduction of a new strategy for restructuring transport fares in future, in accordance with rise in fuel prices.
The Opposition came down heavily on the government for finalising the revised fares only after a nod from the Left Front. “Why hold Assembly sessions if the government feels Alimuddin Street is the only place where all major decisions can be finalised'” said Saugata Roy of the Trinamul, before he walked out.
The Opposition also criticised Chakraborty for hiking tram fares, “knowing fully well that no fuel is required for plying these vehicles.”