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All-party panel on demand for fare hike

The Mamata Banerjee government has set up an “all-party” committee to look into bus operators’ demand for a fare hike.

The eight-member committee will have a representative each of the CPM, Congress and the SUCI. The other five members will be from Trinamul, including transport minister Madan Mitra.

The minister conveyed the decision to set up the committee to representatives of six bus operator unions who met him on Wednesday. The unions, including the Trinamul-backed Bengal Bus Syndicate, have threatened to go on a 72-hour strike from June 25 if the government refuses to allow a fare hike by then.

“We understand private bus operators are facing problems. The committee will look into the demand for a fare revision and come up with a report within a month,” Mitra told Metro.

The date and venue of the first meeting of the committee is yet to be decided. It’s unclear whether the recommendations would be binding on the government.

“This is the first time that such an all-party committee has been set up. We have asked the bus operators to convey their views to the committee. The members will study the fare structures in other states before drawing up the report,” Mitra said.

“All six unions will meet on June 21 before conveying our stand to the government,” said Tapan Bandopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate, the largest body of private bus operators in Bengal.

This is not the first time the government has set up a committee to look into the ailments of the transport sector.

In 2012, a group of ministers led by minister Partha Chatterjee had been formed to look into the issues plaguing the sector. The group, whose members included finance minister Amit Mitra and urban development Firhad Hakim, met on a few occasions.

In the same year, a 15-member committee comprising transport department officials, police officers and an autorickshaw union representative had been set up to suggest how to rein in unruly three-wheeler operators.

In January, the government had set up a two-member committee to look into the problems related to the auto service.

“By forming the all-party committee the government has kept open the option of accepting the demand for a rise in bus fares,” said an official. “If the committee proposes a hike, the government can claim that it has been decided by all parties.”

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 demands from private bus operators. The price of diesel has gone up by Rs 11.77 a litre since but the government has not allowed any further hike.

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