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Private buses off roads after fuel hike

Siliguri, Sept. 14: Private bus owners in north Bengal, where people are already suffering because of bad roads, today started pulling their vehicles off the highways, saying that the rise in diesel price would compound their already high maintenance costs.

“Over 50 per cent of buses had stopped plying because of bad roads. The price hike of diesel was the last nail in the coffin. More than half of the buses on road till yesterday have gone off the roads today,” said Pranab Mani, secretary of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Co-ordination Committee, the apex body of 32 bus owners’ associations of north Bengal.

“They (the bus owners) have called us and have expressed their inability to run buses at such high costs. We have called a meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue,” he said.

According to Mani, the bus fares in north Bengal were last revised in 2008. “Since then, our earnings have remained constant while the costs have increased by leaps and bounds,” he added.

In several areas in north Bengal, the highways are so bad that buses often break down — especially on the NH31C and NH31D.

In Siliguri, according to representatives of the north Bengal Petroleum Dealers Association, the price of diesel has increased from Rs 44.63 to Rs 50.48 a litre.

Uday Ghosh, secretary of Siliguri Dooars Minibus Owners’ Association, said out of the 40 buses running between Siliguri and different destinations of Dooars, only 15-20 buses plied today.

Bus owners of Cooch Behar, where around 1,000 buses were off the roads, said around 500 buses are running from the district to other parts of the state, including the north Bengal districts.

The situation is similar in Jalpaiguri. According to the bus owners, out of the 70 buses plying between Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, only 15-20 are running now. As bus owners hint at withdrawal of more buses from different routes, passengers, particularly daily commuters, are concerned.

“It is indeed tough these days to travel even to Jalpaiguri, given the road conditions. However, for people like us who have to travel everyday for jobs, education and other tasks, the situation would turn grimmer,” said Paritosh Saha, a schoolteacher.

“If the bus owners resort to a strike or simply withdraw their vehicles, we would be at the mercy of government buses and trains, both of which are rare in most routes.”