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City bus falls into parent(less) trap

- JTDC wants out, urban department mulls private consortium

Ranchi, June 16: The ailing four-year-old Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) city bus service in Ranchi, Jamshedpur and Dhanbad is no one’s baby, as operating agency Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC) wants to dump it on a reluctant urban development department.

Under tourism department, JTDC got the onus of the city bus service in 2010 from the urban development department, which is supposed to implement centrally sponsored JNNURM schemes in the state.

Now, the JTDC is prodding the department with monthly reminders to take charge of the bus service by July 1.

On March 21, the JTDC held a board meeting in which it decided to hand over the bus service to the urban development department and finally to respective civic bodies like Ranchi Municipal Corporation, Dhanbad Municipal Corporation and Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee.

Displaying somewhat unseemly hurry to get rid of the buses, the corporation has written to the urban development department and civic bodies of the three cities three letters in as many months starting April.

“We have written letters in April, May and June to urban development department and respective civic bodies, requesting them to take over the city bus service. We asked the department to ensure that hand-over process is through by this month so that respective civic bodies can run, manage and maintain it from July 1,” JTDC managing director Sunil Kumar told The Telegraph.

JTDC general manager S.K. Lal spelt their stand clearly: “We are concerned with the state’s tourism development. Now, the JNNURM city bus operation is no way linked to tourism. This explains why we conveyed our decision in our last board meeting to withdraw from this project.”

In 2010, when the JNNURM city bus service was launched with Ranchi and Dhanbad getting 70 buses each and Jamshedpur 50, and its operations handed over to JTDC, it was deemed a prestigious assignment set to change the face of affordable public transport in Jharkhand’s major cities.

JTDC, on its part, outsourced activities to various private agencies.

Things went downhill from here. The vicious cycle of problems included poor upkeep of buses, labour problem, lack of proper designated routes, hostility of existing auto and private bus networks, lack of financial monitoring and ticket sales that caused the service to bleed heavily and so on.

From a showpiece scheme, the service became an embarrassment as shabby buses dwindled in numbers and routes.

But though the JTDC wants out, the urban development department is in no mood to relent.

State urban development secretary Ajoy Kumar Singh said the decision to let JTDC take over the bus service in 2010 emerged from a cabinet decision.

“How can we suddenly decide to take over? Again, a cabinet decision will be required,” he said.

Another senior urban development official, criticising JTDC’s haste, said that civic bodies such as Ranchi Municipal Corporation were incapable of disposing garbage effectively and constructing drains and roads.

“How can JTDC decide on its own that urban bodies were qualified to run city bus services?” he asked. “Without proper groundwork, it wouldn’t be wise to hand over this task to urban bodies.”

As the deadlock between JTDC and urban development department over the ill-fated city buses continues, Singh suggested a middle-of-the-road approach.

“We will set up a special purpose vehicle comprising private partners under which a project management unit will run the city bus,” Singh said. “If this concept works in the Ranchi municipal areas, we can replicate it in Jamshedpur and Dhanbad too. Let us first create the infrastructure and institutionalise them before taking concrete decisions.”

With inputs from Praduman Choubey


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