Private buses at Sakchi terminus on Tuesday. (Bhola Prasad)
The chickens of earlier polls have come home to roost for the East Singhbhum district administration as it gears up to conduct Lok Sabha election in the Jamshedpur seat on April 17.
Agitated over non-payment of outstanding poll dues since 2010, operators of over 125 private buses have decided to launch from April 10 what they have termed a ‘shadow protest’ to prevent seizure of their vehicles.
Shikshit Berozgar Mini-bus Association, an outfit comprising operators of private buses, met deputy development commissioner and assistant returning officer Lal Mohan Mahto on Tuesday and expressed their inability to hand over the fleet.
Outfit secretary Sanjay Pandey told The Telegraph that the total outstanding for use of private buses in Jharkhand’ s first panchayat election in December 2010, Jamshedpur bypoll in July 2011 and panchayati raj sammelan in Ranchi on March 1, 2014, was nearly Rs 5 lakh.
“Most operators have purchased buses on loans and are struggling to cough up EMIs because payment is stuck with the district administration,” he said.
Pandey added that they had met the deputy commissioner and other senior bureaucrats on the issue, but received only assurances.
“We had informed the administration that unless our old bills were settled, we cannot hand over the buses from April 11 as requested by the district transport officer,” he said, adding that the transport officer had asked for 100 buses.
On their planned ‘shadow protest’, Pandey said the administration often launched special drives to seize vehicles and use them for elections.
“To neutralise such strategies, we have asked drivers and support staff of each of these buses to flee when administrative officials try to seize the vehicles. They can take the buses, but our staff won’t ply them. Then, it would be the administration’s responsibility to ply them and repair snags during breakdowns, if any.”
He added that the operators were also mulling deflating of tyres or removing of mechanical parts from the buses so that they could not be used. “We have been compelled to resort to such tactics.”
The association members are planning to register their complaint with state electoral officer P.K. Jajoria soon.
Deputy development commissioner Mahto admitted that payment had not been cleared, but stressed that the district transport officer had been instructed to release a part of the outstanding amount from the East Singhbhum treasury.
“I have asked the DTO to settle panchayati raj sammelan and panchayat election dues at the earliest. I will have to speak to the deputy commissioner on pending dues for the 2011 bypoll,” he said.
The 125 buses running on 15 routes across the city ferry 1.5 lakh commuters every day. While most of these buses would have been engaged in poll duty anyway, the ‘shadow protest’ is likely to inconvenience people further because the few that could have plied would remain off roads too.