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Bus strike off after assurance

Private bus operators on Sunday called off their 72-hour strike from June 25 following an assurance from transport minister Madan Mitra that their demand for a fare hike would be looked into “within a month”.

At a meeting with representatives of bus unions on Sunday afternoon, the minister sought time till July 23, by when a committee set up to look into the operators’ demand would submit its report.

“We wanted an assurance from the minister. Today he said the committee would look into all our demands. We would wait (till July 23) before taking any action,” said Tapan Bandyopadhyay, the president of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.

Every time operators of private buses and minibuses pressed for a revision of fares, the transport department bought time with the promise that the “demand will be looked into”.

The fares were last hiked — by Re 1 — in November 2012.

The bus unions had threatened a 48-hour strike in August 2013 on the fare-hike issue. The strike was called off after Mitra met the operators and promised to consider their demand.

The next month, the operators called a two-day strike. The government swung into action by threatening to cancel the permits of the bus owners joining the strike, prompting the unions to call off the strike the next day.

Sadhan Das of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate had then said: “We have been requested to call off the strike by the minister (Madan Mitra). He has assured us that a decision will be taken after Durga Puja.”

The Pujas over, the government slipped into denial. When the bus operators again started pressing for a fare hike, the minister reverted to the strategy of buying time by meeting the operators.

On November 30, he met representatives of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate and Bengal Bus Syndicate in their offices to listen to their demands. Back in his office, Mitra said raising bus fares was “out of the question”.

The bus operators went on a 24-hour strike from 6am on January 6 this year but a threat from Mitra to cancel permits ensured that a large segment of the fleet was back on the roads by evening.

On Sunday, however, bus operators said they were hopeful that the government would act this time.

“This is the first time that the minister has asked us to submit in writing our demands, the extent of rise in diesel price since the last fare hike and the bus fare structures in other states. We hope the government will not disappoint us this time,” said Bandopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.

Last week, the state government had set up an eight-member committee, including a representative each of the Congress, SUCI and the CPM to look into the demand for a fare hike. The CPM later refused to be part of the committee.

The panel has also been tasked with making comparative studies of the fare structures in other states and draw up a report within a month.