Passengers atop a bus in Burdwan on Tuesday. (Munshi Muklesur Rahman)
Sept. 18: Classes in rural areas of south Bengal were affected today as many students and teachers could not attend school because of the private bus strike, which entered its second day today.
Transport minister Madan Mitra said if bus operators were so hard-pressed, they should submit their permits so that the government can give them to persons who are ready to run their buses.
“Let these operators say they are unable to run buses any longer. I will set up a pandal where they can come and hand over their permits. We will transfer these permits in three days to others who are keen on running buses,” Mitra said.
Private bus owners criticised Mitra’s comments, saying this was not the way of addressing the issue of the diesel price hike. “Why should we give up our permits? Most of us are dependent on buses for our livelihood. The point is whether the state government is ready to address the problems of operators. If not, our strike will continue,” said Sadhan Das of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
Today, nearly 30 high schools in the rural areas of Bhatar, Mangalkote, Raina, Purbasthali, Memari and Manteswar in Burdwan gave over after a few periods as over half the students could not turn up. These areas, where buses are the most important mode of transport, are 25 to 60km from Burdwan town.
One of the worst-hit schools was Madhab Public School in Bhatar. Only about 15 per cent of the students could attend. Thirteen of the 33 teachers could not come.
Headmaster Amitava Konar said: “As so few students were present, we declared the school closed after recess at 2pm. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
History teacher Rajiv Hajra did not face trouble in coming to school as he owns a motorcycle and stays only 2km from the school. “But six of my colleagues had to hire a car to come to school as they live 30km away,” Hajra said.
In West Midnapore’s Daspur, Ghatal, Salboni, Garbeta and Lalgarh, the attendance in many schools were low.
“Over 400 of our 1,000 students could not come today because of the bus strike. But we did not declare a holiday. If the strike continues, we may have to do so,” said Prasun Paria, the headmaster of Moupal Satsangha Vidyalaya in Salboni.
Office-goers were also inconvenienced. Those who live in rural areas but attend office in towns were the worst hit.
Shivshankar Roy, a PWD employee in Burdwan town who lives in a Bhatar village, said: “Yesterday, I along with four colleagues hired a car for Rs 800 to attend office. I returned home in a matador van. Today, I woke up early and took the 6.30am train to Burdwan town, spent some time in a relative’s house and went to office. I will have to return home again in a crowded matador van. This will be my routine till the strike is called off.”
Biplab Ghosh, a clerk in the subdivisional office in West Midnapore’s Kharagpur, said: “I go to office in private bus from my home in Benapur (20km from Kharagpur). I could not attend office today because of the strike.”
In all south Bengal districts, motorised cycle vans allegedly charged more, taking advantage of the bus strike.
In Katwa and Kalna of Burdwan, motorised van operators allegedly charged double the fare.
“The bus ticket for the 5km journey from my home in Sarirampur village to Purbasthali College is Rs 4. The normal fare of motorised vans is Rs 8 but today, they charged Rs 15,” said Krishna Khan, a first-year BA student.
Manash Bhattacharjee of Naihati, who teaches in a high school in Chapra, was forced to take a matador van to work.
At least one van driver denied the allegation that they fleeced passengers. “We charged the normal fare”, said Imadadul Sheikh, a resident of Nadia’s Nakashipara.