Government and PSU officials deputed for election work monitor the electronic media for paid news at the office of the deputy commissioner-cum-district election officer in Ranchi on Wednesday. A toll-free number, 1800-345-6552, has been launched where people can report against any candidate or party trying to woo voters with cash or kind or spending more than the stipulated Rs 70 lakh on election campaign. This apart, 25 flying squads have been formed to rush to the spot on receiving complaints against any candidate. (Prashant Mitra)
Lalit Mahto, who frequently travels between Bundu and Ranchi in a bus, was taken aback when the conductor asked him to pay Rs 60 on Tuesday. Although the Bundu resident finally convinced the conductor to take Rs 50, he still ended up paying at least Rs 20 more.
Lalit is not alone.
Several other rural commuters like him who don’t purchase tickets in advance while travelling short distances in district buses are paying extra these days as the conductors have raised fares to make up for the losses they will be incurring once the vehicles are taken away for election duty. Hence, a one-way trip to a particular destination is now costlier by a good Rs 10-Rs 20.
“Bundu is hardly 40km from Ranchi. So travellers like me don’t reserve a seat in the Ranchi-Tata bus. Instead, we give Rs 30-Rs 35 to the conductor and stand the whole way. But I was surprised when the conductor asked Rs 60 from me yesterday (Tuesday), but I managed with Rs 50,” Lalit said.
The commuter added that the conductor told him that the buses would have to be deposited to the district administration for three days next month for ferrying poll workers to the election booths.
“So the conductors are trying to make some money beforehand,” Lalit added.
Passengers from Lohardaga district agreed.
“The other day, I was asked to pay Rs 40, but I pushed Rs 20 into the conductor’s pocket. Other short-distance travellers who also got into the bus from Kuru protested and paid only Rs 20,” said Md Shafiq, who travels from Kuru.
Bus drivers at Itki and Kantatoli bus stands confirmed that they are asking passengers who travel shorter distances, say 30km to 40km, to pay Rs 10 to Rs 20 more.
“Those travelling on reserved tickets cannot be asked to pay more. But there is no harm in asking people for whom we have to stop midway to pick them up to cough up a little more,” said Uday Prasad, a Lohardaga-bound bus driver.
Although president of Ranchi Bus Owners’ Association Krishna Mohan Singh did not support the drivers and conductors, he admitted that bus owners incurred losses when their vehicles are taken away for election duty.
“Owners of buses doing poll services are usually given Rs 2,000 a day. This year, the Election Commission proposed a 10 per cent hike, which will come to around Rs 2,200. However, we have demanded Rs 2,500 on the lines of Chhattisgarh,” Singh told The Telegraph.
He added that the EC only pays the one-time charge while maintenance costs in case the bus develops a flat tyre or any other malfunction while on election duty have to be borne by the owner.
There are around 300 inter-state buses connecting cities like Kolkata, Patna, Bhubaneswar and Varanasi, while around 2,000 ply within the districts. Almost all the buses are pulled off the roads on election days.