|Transport minister Madan Mitra at Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday. A Telegraph picture
Transport minister Madan Mitra on Tuesday ruled out any immediate hike in fares of private buses and minibuses and warned operators against going on a 48-hour strike from Thursday to press for a raise.
“Operators should know that going on a strike will not help them achieve their goal. The government will not give in to their pressure. There is still time, the strike should be called off,” Mitra said after a meeting with a section of bus and taxi operators.
He asserted that there was “no question” of an upward revision of fares by even “a single paisa”.
Strikes, the minister said, kill the possibility of talks. “If an increase in fares does happen eventually, it would only happen through talks.”
The operators have been unhappy with the last revision in November 2012, when the fares were hiked by Re 1 after chief minister Mamata Banerjee vetoed a proposal for a stage-wise increase. The bus unions have since been trying to force the government to announce another hike.
The minister said the Bengal Bus Syndicate, with around 3,000 members, had agreed not to participate in the strike and taxi operators had assured him that services would be normal on the strike days.
“It is wrong to say that no private buses will be available on strike days,” said Mitra.
A Bengal Bus Syndicate official confirmed that the association would stay away from the strike.
The Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, the largest 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 Thursday and Friday.
The Minibus Operators’ Association, too, has supported the strike call.
“We have been asking for a fare hike for a year and trying in vain to make the government see reason. The strike is our only option now,” said Tapan Bandopadhayay, the joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.
The transport minister said vehicle insurance companies have informed the government that they are willing to cover for any damage suffered on the strike days.
“The insurance companies have said they will for pay for such damage unless the vehicles are taken out during a curfew. We are trying to make sure that such coverage claims are settled in less than a week,” said Mitra.
Officials of insurance companies, however, said the coverage would depend on the type of the policy.
“If the car or bus owner has a comprehensive policy, then riots, strikes and damage caused by malicious acts are covered. But they will not be covered if it is a third-party liability policy,” said a senior official of the nationalised New India Assurance.
The operators, he alleged, have hatched a “devious scheme to effectively call a 96-hour strike as many buses would be off the road on Tuesday and Wednesday because of Vishwakarma Puja”.
Mitra also urged the judiciary to take suo motu cognisance of the strike and admonish those supporting it, as the high court has earlier ruled against strikes.