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Permit lies with party to deny govt a crore

Calcutta, Jan. 15: The CPM owes the state government over Rs 1 crore in unpaid permit fees for the 10,000 buses it pulled off city and district routes for its January 8 rally.

Senior public vehicles department (PVD) officials said if a bus is to run outside its stipulated route, a temporary permit must be obtained by paying the transport department Rs 1,200.

A rough calculation shows that the CPM, which hired about 6,500 private and mini buses in the city and another 3,500 in the districts to ferry party supporters, owes the government Rs 1.20 crore.

Technically, it’s the bus owner who is to obtain the permit by paying the fee, but the practice is that the hirer shells out the amount in addition to the rental.

The ruling party had saved on the rentals, too, by securing a questionable 50 per cent discount on the 400 state buses it hired and by armtwisting private bus operators into lending their vehicles for a pittance.

“Nearly 10,000 buses went off their routes without informing us or obtaining the permits,” a senior PVD official said. “Nobody even bothered to apply for one.

“These buses, running with their number plates covered, could have been impounded. But the police, who never miss an opportunity to harass a bus operator with his papers in order, chose to look the other way.”

A prominent CPM leader from North 24-Parganas, who is a former State Transport Authority (STA) deputy chairman, dismissed the charge.

“Taking buses without permits for rallies is an old practice. All political parties do it,” he said. “Letting out a bus for a marriage or picnic is different from letting it out for a political programme.”

In Calcutta, the temporary permits are issued by the PVD; in the districts by the regional transport authorities.

Private bus operators, asked why they hadn’t tried to obtain the permits, said they hadn’t really rented out their buses in the first place.

“The workers belonging to the CPM took the buses away without our permission. How could we have applied for permits'” said Bengal Bus Syndicate president Swarnakamal Saha. “Everybody knows that Citu controls the bus workers. We had very little say in the matter.”

The Motor Vehicle Act says that under no circumstances can more than half the buses be pulled off any route. But 400 of 650 state buses and 6,500 of 8,500 private and mini buses had been commandeered from the city.

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has explained he had allowed the bulk withdrawal at a discount because the CPM rally was for a social cause.

But a PVD official said: “Our rules do not permit such large-scale withdrawal of buses even for a social cause.”

Former Calcutta High Court justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee said commuters could sue the government for compensation over the hardship caused to them.

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