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New poll fleet fare spurs row

The state transport department’s ambiguous move to revise rates at which vehicles can be hired for the Lok Sabha elections has raised questions of transparency and shadows implementation because finance bosses have been kept out of the loop.

According to the fresh proposal sent to the cabinet department on Thursday, every bus, with a seating capacity of 49 or more, must be paid a poll duty price of Rs 2,890.

Similarly, the rate proposed for those with 33-49 capacity is Rs 2,440; for 16-35 capacity is Rs 2,060; and for 14-22 capacity is Rs 1,480.

On March 8, the department (letter No. 234/08 111) had surprisingly given a rate chart in which detention charges were quoted much lower than the one faxed on April 3.

In the previous letter, rates quoted for buses were Rs 2,200 (49 or more) and Rs 770 (mini-buses with capacity of 14-22). The other two rates were lower as well.

Citing his reasons behind the revision, Sajal Chakraborty — additional chief secretary who is also in charge of the transport department said he wanted to bring the rates on a par with those of Chhattisgarh. “It was a demand of bus owners, which I found to be legitimate. They had been pressing for the new rates for a long time because Jharkhand too is Maoist-hit and maintenance costs are no less.”

Chakraborty’s debatable decision has raised hackles both in the government and outside. For starters, political opponents are smelling a rat.

“The same decision could have been taken earlier. The sudden revision seems fishy. The government must come clear on its intentions. A hike of Rs 700 at one go reeks of a motive. The Election Commission must check for real reasons behind the proposal,” said BJP leader and former MLA Sarayu Roy.

Stating that opposing the decision could tip scales, Roy added: “It is obvious that a lobby has worked behind this. No one can oppose such a proposal outright because it will irk bus owners. But, it was not a fair move.”

JVM veteran Ajay Nath Shahdeo too expressed his displeasure.

“Why did the government wait to compare rates with Chhattisgarh. If that state took a pro-people decision, this state should have done the same on its own. The sudden move seems not right. The EC must look into it,” he said.

Sources in the transport department said that while the first proposal had been approved by minister Champai Soren, the revised one did not reach his table.

The finance department too has not been consulted it seems. Finance secretary A.P. Singh pleaded ignorance.

“The finance department has no information of whether new rates have been sent to the cabinet department by the transport department. I cannot comment whether the previous rates or new ones will be applicable because nothing has gone through us or has come to us,” he said.

P.K. Jajoria, chief electoral officer, said the poll panel had no role in the revision. “The transport department has revised it and we have forwarded the new rates to deputy commissioners.”

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