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Bus owners seek poll fee hike

Operators of private buses in the city have written to the Election Commission of India seeking a hike in the daily fee for vehicles requisitioned for poll duty from Rs 1,200 to Rs 3,000 a bus.

The operators in their letter to Nirvachan Sadan in Delhi — a copy of which was sent to the office of the chief electoral officer — said they were struggling to stay afloat because of the state government’s refusal to allow a fare hike and expressed their inability to hand over buses for poll duty for Rs 1,200 a day.

In Calcutta, the operators were paid Rs 1,200 daily for a bus before the 2011 Assembly elections. The poll panel reassesses the rate before each election.

The city bus operators want to make a case for a hike before the rates are decided for the upcoming general elections.

“In Jharkhand and other states, the operators are paid Rs 3,000 a bus per day. In Bengal, the rate is Rs 1,200,” said Tapan Bandopadhyay, of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate, the biggest body of private bus operators in Bengal. “On an average, a bus is taken away for at least 10-12 days. Most of us have to pay the driver and the helper for the period and wait for months for reimbursement. This time, we can’t afford to shell out the amount.”

According to the poll panel, the rate varies from state to state and even city to city. A bus’s commercial rent in an area is one of the factors that determine the election commission’s rate.

The operators have also demanded 75 per cent of the fee in advance to cope with the situation arising out of the government’s refusal to allow a fare hike.

“The commission calculates a mileage of 3.5km a litre (diesel) for a bus, but most of our buses run merely two to two-and-a-half kilometres in one litre of diesel,” said the owner of a bus on route 3C/1.

“Besides, the daily allowance for a bus hand is fixed at Rs 90. This is not a realistic assessment of the prevailing market rates. We need 75 per cent of the amount in advance.”

Sources in the state wing of the election commission said that of the 12,000 private buses in the city, more than 8,000 are requisitioned for the Lok Sabha or the Assembly elections.

Buses are usually requisitioned by the police or by the commission through district magistrates. The operators are paid the fee three-four months after an election.

The Bengal government had last hiked fares — by Re 1 — in November 2012. Since then, the owners said, the price of diesel has shot up by nearly Rs 6 a litre, making it impossible for them to repay the loans they had taken before buying the vehicles.

“We tried to persuade the government several times to allow us a hike but nothing has emerged. Now if owners have to pay up for the elections, many more buses would go off the road,” said Deepak Sarkar of the Bengal Bus Syndicate.

A functionary in the chief electoral officer’s office said: “A file on the issue has reached us but I am yet to go through it.”