Nearly 7,000 private buses and 1,100 minibuses could go off the city roads for 72 hours from June 25 if operators decide to go ahead with their strike demanding fare revision.
Representatives of six organisations of bus and minibus operators said on Monday that they were pushed to the brink and left with no option but to resort to strike. The Bengal Bus Syndicate, a pro-Trinamul organisation of bus owners and operators, is among the six groups that have called the strike.
“The price of diesel has gone up by Rs 11.77 since the time the Mamata Banerjee government had decided to hike bus and minibus fares. There has been no response to our appeals to the chief minister. So we have decided to go ahead with the strike,” said Tapan Bandyopadhayay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, the largest body of private bus operators in the state. “The state government has realised that for a hike of every rupee in fares, it earns 18 paise as cess. So it is not bothered about the plight of bus owners and operators.”
In November 2012, a year after taking over the reins, the Mamata Banerjee government had decided to hike bus fares by Re 1 in the face of persistent demands by private bus operators, who comprise nearly 72 per cent of the transport pie in the state.
The decision for a fare revision came nearly a month after the private bus operators went on a 48-hour strike in September 2012. Since then bus operators have threatened on a few occasions to go on strike but retreated every time after carrot-and-stick acts by transport minister Madan Mitra. While buying time helped the state government, it hit the operators.
Many bus owners have withdrawn their vehicles unable to meet expenses and pay EMIs. Bus operators on as many as 21 routes said the fleet strength on each route has dwindled from 12-15 to five-seven, leading to longer waits at bus stops.
This time, too, the transport minister decided to threaten the unions instead of addressing the issue.
“In this oppressive heat if bus operators suddenly decide to withdraw their vehicles, the people will not spare them,” Mitra told Metro.
“It is true that diesel prices have increased. But the decision has been taken by the Centre and not by the state. I am open for talks but not with certain terms and conditions,” the minister added.
The private operators said if the strike does take place, with bus operators from the hills also lending their support, some 42,000 buses would stay off the roads in the state.
It would be beyond the government’s capacity to tackle the situation, the operators cautioned.