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CPM no to fare-hike panel

The CPM will stay away from an all-party committee formed to look into the demand for a bus fare hike to avoid falling into what it considers a trap laid by Trinamul to make it a party to an unpopular decision.

“We will not join the committee. The state government ignored our earlier requests on hundreds of issues. Now since they are in problem, they want our help,” said Surjya Kanta Mishra, the leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

Transport minister Madan Mitra had on Wednesday said the eight-member all-party committee would have a representative each of the CPM, Congress and the SUCI. The other members will be from Trinamul, including Mitra.

The committee is expected to submit its report within a month, though the date and venue of the first meeting is yet to be decided.

The Mamata Banerjee government had agreed on a Re1- hike in bus fares in November 2012. The diesel price has shot up by Rs 11.77 a litre since but the government has turned down all pleas from bus operators for a further revision.

Transport operators, cutting across political lines, have been demanding a fare hike, citing how the income-expenditure mismatch has made the transport sector economically unviable.

With the government showing no signs of changing its stand, six bus operator unions, including the Trinamul-backed Bengal Bus Syndicate, have threatened a 72-hour strike from June 25 if their demand for a hike is not accepted.

Sources in the state government said an upward revision in fares was imminent and Opposition parties had been inducted into the committee to pre-empt any protest following the announcement of the hike.

CPM leaders said the decision to stay away from the all-party committee had been conveyed to the transport department. They suspect the government’s motive behind including Opposition parties in the panel.

“If the government asks for an opinion, we can give it. But there is no reason why we should be part of the decision-making process,” said a CPM state committee member.

According to him, if the party decides to join the committee, it will later lose the chance to protest any decision to raise the fares.

While the Left has made its decision clear, the Congress is still divided on whether to join the committee or not.

The government side on Thursday informed the Congress legislature party leader, Mohammad Sohrab, about the committee.

According to Congress sources, Sohrab was keen on sending veteran MLA Manas Bhuniya to the panel, but some party MLAs opposed the proposal.

“The government wants us to endorse whatever decision it takes. Why should we come to the rescue of the government? Let them decide on their own,” said a Congress MLA.

The combined Opposition has often accused the government of ignoring them in the “development process”. The chief minister is showing some inclination to engage the Opposition only after the BJP’s emergence as a force to reckon with in the state.

But this time around the Opposition is not in a mood to be seen on the same page with the government.

“The government should have hiked the fares long back. If a revision does not take place now, the entire transport system will collapse. Let us see what the government does,” said a Congress MLA.

Congress sources said the decision on whether to join the committee or not would be taken in a day or two.

A section of the Congress is also unhappy with Mamata Banerjee’s decision to form a committee while the Assembly is in session.

“A policy decision should be made on the floor of the House. Why form a committee?” asked an Opposition MLA.