What fatal fumes could not, blood on the streets has done. What pollution peril could not, permit pressure has done.
After resisting all attempts to phase out belching old buses, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has finally woken up to the need for slamming the brakes on some — to clear the streets and make them less perilous, and, in the process, clear the air and make it less toxic.
Transport department officials on Wednesday said a decision has been taken to “pull out of commercial routes” all state and private buses and minibuses that are above the 10-year age-barrier. The idea is to reduce the number of buses, curb the competition among vehicles on various overlapping routes, ensure a drop in accident rate and give the city’s lungs a breather.
According to estimates, nearly 3,500 buses and minibuses will have to go off the road following the new order, regardless of their fitness, registration authenticity or environment-friendliness.
As a first step, H. Mohan, joint secretary in the department of transport, said the regional transport offices were being asked to refuse renewal of permits to 10-year-old private buses and minibuses unless their owners had them replaced with new ones.
The government, Mohan said, would not renew the permits of old vehicles even if they met the emission standards.
A new norm has also been introduced, under which a new bus or minibus can be inducted into a commercial route on a one-time, 10-year permit.
“We will consider a bus or a minibus in its 10th year as old and expect it to be replaced with a new one. There will be no renewal of the permit. The old vehicle can be operated as a private carrier,” clarified transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.
The government’s move comes in the wake of a report of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) on the rising auto-emission levels in the city air. But the fact that overcrowding of buses and overlapping of routes was pushing up the road accident count proved to be the clincher.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had recently expressed concern over the rising number of road accidents due to rash driving and competition among buses plying on the same routes. Officials in the state secretariat said Bhattacharjee asked minister Chakraborty to take “stern action” to check the menace.
Bus operators said the new order would put bus-owners in a spot, as it would not be easy to buy new vehicles to replace old ones. “Many of us will be out of business because of this decision. We will try to make the government see our standpoint,” said Swarna Kamal Saha, president of Bengal Bus Syndicate.
“We feel that some bus and minibus-owners will have to face some problems in procuring new vehicles but we do not have any other option in order to curb auto emission and maintain traffic discipline,” said the transport minister.
“I have convinced the bus operators that they will have to spend less for maintenance of new buses, which will also be fuel-efficient. We will follow the rules for state buses, too. We have already started replacing old buses,” claimed Chakraborty.