The Mamata Banerjee government on Thursday coaxed and coerced bus and minibus operators into withdrawing their 48-hour strike on its first day.
The bus unions backtracked after the state government succeeded in ensuring the presence of enough buses on roads by rolling out more than usual vehicles from its fleet and persuading a section of operators to defy the strike.
The strike, jointly called by the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate and the Minibus Operators Coordination Committee, was called off at 4pm after transport minister Madan Mitra met the unions’ representatives at Netaji Indoor Stadium and put across the message that the government would not yield to pressure.
Insiders said Mitra sugar-coated the threat with an assurance to “look into the demands” of a fare revision soon after Puja. “The minister said he would meet us again on September 25 and there was a hint of eagerness to understand the demands of the industry following the hike in oil prices,” said Tapan Bandyopadhayay, the joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate. “We are reposing our faith in chief minister Mamata Banerjee.”
Abasesh Daw, the secretary of the minibus committee, said: “We did not want to fight the government. We are not a political party but businessmen. We hope the government will do something after Puja.”
With over 37,000 buses under its fold, the council is the biggest and the oldest body of private bus operators in the state. Around 7,000 bus owners across the city owe their allegiance to the council. The minibus union has around 1,200 vehicles under its umbrella in the city and some 7,000 across the state.
However, their combined might failed to leave any impact on roads. North to south, buses outnumbered commuters at the busiest intersections.
Another reason why the strike failed to have any impact was that many educational institutions were closed to protest the vandalism at Christ Church school in Dum Dum.
At Tollygunge Phari, Sutanu Bal was surprised when he saw four buses in less than five minutes. “Such a scene is rare these days,” said the Esplanade-bound man.
However, the state’s refusal to budge on bus fares has cost commuters dear. The number of buses on the roads has dwindled and people are having to spend almost three times the bus fare or more on autos and other modes of transport.