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Fare fracas keeps buses away

- Confusion tied to hike in Calcutta triggers scuffles in Hooghly
Empty buses lined up at Chinsurah depot on Sunday. Picture by Ananda Das

Chinsurah, Nov. 18: Bus owners in Hooghly have decided to keep their vehicles off the road from tomorrow following scuffles with passengers who thought Friday’s fare revision for Calcutta was also applicable in the districts.

Some owners withdrew their buses this evening itself after the decision was taken at a meeting of the Hooghly District Bus-Minibus Owners’ Association in the afternoon.

They alleged that passengers “misunderstood” them. The state government had on Friday partially rolled back the bus fare hike in the Calcutta metropolitan area, freezing the rise at Re 1 across the board. The revised rates for the rest of the state are expected to be announced later.

Hooghly district magistrate Manmeet Nanda said: “We are yet to decide on the districts. We are waiting for orders from Calcutta.”

According to Debabrata Bhowmik, the president of the bus association, passengers refused to pay the rates announced on November 10 after they learnt on Friday that bus fares have been revised.

“On Friday evening, a bus conductor, Dipu Das, was made to do sit-ups and hold his ears at Chanditala by passengers who claimed he was charging more. They told the conductor that (industries minister) Partha Chatterjee had announced that bus fares could be raised only by Re 1 and so there was no reason they should pay more,” Bhowmik said.

“They fail to understand that the revised rates announced on Friday are only for Calcutta. We can reduce the fare in the districts only after a decision is taken,” a bus conductor said.

Minister Chatterjee, while speaking on the new bus fares for Calcutta, had said: “We had always stated that the fare would not go up by more than Re 1 in any of the stages. That’s what we have clarified with today’s order.”

In south Bengal districts, the fare had been increased from Rs 4 to Rs 6 for the first 6km. Subsequently for each kilometre, the rise in fare is 55 paise. For the same distance, express buses will charge Rs 8 for first 6km and 60 paise for each subsequent kilometre.

According to the police, another conductor, Gopal Banik, was beaten up by passengers in Pandua in Hooghly. “They refused to pay the increased rate as the government had declared on Friday night that the fare hike will not exceed Re 1. The conductor’s right leg was broken and he had to be admitted to Chinsurah Imambara Hospital,” an officer said.

He added that a woman also hit a bus cleaner with her slippers in Hooghly’s Serampore after she was told to get off the vehicle for refusing to pay according to the new rates.

In East and West Midnapore, bus owners said they were mulling a strike. “We are thinking of calling a meeting like the one in Hooghly. People are misunderstanding us. The fare rollback on Friday is only for the Calcutta metropolitan area. But people think that this downward revision is for the districts as well,” said Sukumar Bera, the secretary of East Midnapore Bus Owners’ Association.

Additional district magistrate (general) of East Midnapore Moloy Haldar said: “We have not received any instruction for a partial rollback.”