Transport minister Madan Mitra on Friday dared bus operators to go on a strike at the cost of closing the doors of future dialogue with the government, sending one of the sternest messages to private operators threatening a strike if bus fares are not raised.
“If bus operators want to go on a strike, let them but that would close the channels of dialogue with the government,” Mitra said before urging them to call off the September 19-20 strike.
The Joint Council of Bus Syndicate, the biggest body of private bus operators in Bengal, has threatened to withdraw over 38,000 buses across the state, including around 7,000 in the city, on the two days to press for a fare hike. The Minibus Operators’ Association has supported the strike call.
The last revision was in November 2012, when the fares were hiked by Re 1 after the chief minister vetoed a proposal for a stage-wise increase. The bus operators were unhappy with the rise and have since been urging the government to raise the fares further.
“Let them go on a strike and see whether fares get revised or not. One can’t call repeated strikes on the same issue,” Mitra said after a meeting with the top brass of the transport department and police.
Government sources said Mitra sounded the warning after a discussion with chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is in no mood to give in to the arm-twisting techniques of bus operators. “The chief minister knows there is some legitimacy in the demand for a fare hike…. But she has asked the transport minister to take a tough stand as she is angry with the strike call ahead of the festive season,” said an official.
Mitra has asked all government bus depots to send a report by September 17 providing the list of buses that can be made available to counter the strike.
Bus operators claimed there has been enough talks but in vain. “We have sent 10 letters in as many months and met the minister at least 23 times from December 2012 to September. But what is the outcome? Nothing,” said Tapan Bandopadhayay, the joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.
The minister said the transport department would run additional buses during peak hours from different points across the city to cater to the pre-festival rush.