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Green bus turns white elephant after trial run

Calcutta, April 29: In 1991, South 24-Parganas got a green gift from the science and technology department — a pollution-free bus that was driven by battery.

Twelve years down the line, it is gathering dust outside the bungalow of the district magistrate at Alipore. It has been there for the past 12 years, after a few trial runs on Sagar Island.

Residents were awe struck when they first saw the bus. It was difficult to believe that it could run minus petrol or diesel and without billowing the thick plumes of smoke that the islanders were so familiar with.

The eco-friiendly mini bus soon became the centre of attraction on the island.

But, equally soon, the district authorities realised that the vehicle —manufactured at a cost of about Rs 10 lakh — had a “very high running cost”.

The authorities also assessed that the people in the district would not be able to buy the tickets, which would cost much more than those on local buses.

“In our rural areas, we can’t charge people exorbitant rates like Rs 5 or 7 for a ride. People simply won’t be able to pay for it. We calculated that we would have to run it at a loss. We also realised that we will not be able to maintain the bus properly,” said an official.

“It was not possible for us to run the bus because it entailed a cost of about Rs 50,000 every month, including the salaries of a driver and a couple of cleaners. The specially-trained driver had to be paid more than those driving normal buses. The batteries, too, needed a recharge every 30 km,” said a senior district official.

The green bus was soon a white elephant for the cash-strapped administration.

Years of idle have taken its toll of the bus and it now requires at least Rs 3 lakh for an overhaul. The batteries would have to be replaced.

The administration is trying hard to get rid of it and has discussed possible deals with various agencies. District magistrate Alapan Bandyopadhyay is in the forefront of the initiative to hand over the bus to some agency that will utilise it.

“The bus was introduced with good intent but ultimately it became difficult to maintain it,” said Bandyopadhyayhe added.

“We don’t have the funds to run it. So, we have approached the surface transport corporation. If they are interested, we will hand it over to them,” added the district magistrate.

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