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Govt taps World Bank on transport
- Staff right-sizing and restructure on agenda

Calcutta, Nov. 29: The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government today began talks with the World Bank for upgrade and modernisation of transport services in the state.

'We had preliminary discussions with World Bank officials, where we told them that we are looking seriously at restructuring and reviewing the transport sector in the state,' transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury said after meeting a five-member team from the funding agency at Writers' Buildings this evening.

'In order to facilitate industrial resurgence in the state, we want to find out how to make tZhe transport system effective, upgrade the quality of services and provide more amenities to people,' a department official said.

A major component of the upgrade will be the restructuring of the five state transport undertakings ' Calcutta State Transport Corporation, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC), the South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation and the the Calcutta Tramways Company.

The process involves close scrutiny of the entities and rationalisation and redeployment of their employees.

The government is planning to bring private transport, which accounts for 80 per cent of the state's transport infrastructure, under the upgrade plan by hiring a consultant to study the transport system and suggest improvements.

'We have approached the World Bank to help us in upgradation and modernisation as transport is a core area for them. (The) Department for International Development (DFID) will be approached to fund the voluntary retirement schemes, which will be introduced to trim the workforce of the undertakings. DFID has also agreed in principle to fund the study of the transport system,' a government official said.

Chief secretary Ashok Gupta is expected to take up the matter formally with Michael Carter, the World Bank's India director, when he visits Calcutta on Wednesday.

The transport department is in the process of finalising a consultant for the study. Nine companies have responded to advertisements and four of them have been shortlisted, department officials said.

The study will be commissioned in January and the report would be tabled within 45 days. 'We're short on time as the state government will have to submit a proposal formally to the Centre within this financial year,' an official said.

With a massive workforce of 23,000 looking after about 3,380 vehicles, the five transport corporations are overstaffed. The worker-vehicle ratio, which should ideally be 1:7, is currently 1:12 in some corporations. With an annual shortfall of Rs 10 crore after subsidy, the NBSTC is in the worst shape. Officials said paying salaries to the NBSTC staff has been very difficult for the past three months.

The World Bank team held another round of talks with commerce and industry secretary Sabyasachi Sen. The visitors, who have prepared a report on the state's industrial climate, were reportedly dissatisfied with road conditions and transport infrastructure.

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