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Bus strike put off, taxis to decide today

- Chief minister buys time, transport minister can’t

Bus operators put off their indefinite strike until October 29 after Mamata Banerjee intervened on Monday to buy some more time for the government to ponder a fare hike.

At a meeting with the representatives of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, the chief minister managed to convince them not to strike till Lakshmi Puja (October 29). The private operators had threatened to withdraw buses from the road from Tuesday.

Taxi operators were less accommodating to government overtures on Monday. After meeting transport minister Madan Mitra, members of the Bengal Taxi Association and some smaller organisations expressed disappointment and said they would decide their course of action on Tuesday.

“We have decided to defer the bus strike following an assurance by the chief minister. When we told her that raising fares is the only way to save the industry, she listened patiently. She agreed that the industry was in a bad shape and seemed keen on reviving it,” said Sadhan Das of the council.

The city commuter has had to contend with uncertainty over transport availability several times in the past month and a half. In addition to a three-day bus strike, there have been three bus strike and two taxi strike threats.

“The first thing I look for in a newspaper these days is the strike update,” said Shalini Gupta, a bank official who lives in Maniktala.

The three-day strike called by the council, whose members include the owners of 15,000 buses in the city and 20,000 more in the state, had crippled bus services in the city last month forcing Mitra to meet its representatives and seek 10 days’ time to decide on a hike. The minister pleaded for more time when the deadline ended on September 30.

“More than half the buses are off the road and the livelihood of thousands are at stake. Some of us are cashing in on the shortage of buses but that’s not the way to survive,” said Tapan Banerjee of the council.

Apart from the chief, home and transport secretaries, the bus operators’ meet with the chief minister had a special invitee: Trinamul MLA Swarnakamal Saha, who was a secretary of the Bengal Bus Syndicate, the other major private bus lobby in the state.

After the meeting, he struggled to defend the government’s dragging of feet on fare hike.

“The private bus industry has to find ways to survive and we need to find alternatives other than increasing fares,” Saha said when asked whether the demand for hike is justified.

The taxi operators were blunt.

“We did not hear anything from the transport minister to indicate that the government is keen to address our demands,” said Bimal Guha of the Bengal Taxi Association.