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Fare hike nod in panel report

The committee looking into the demand for a bus fare hike has agreed with a panel’s finding that running buses has become costlier by 25 per cent since the last hike, paving the way for another rise in fares.

Sources said the all-party committee, which does not have a representative of the Left and the Congress, would prepare a final report proposing a hike in sync with the rise in the operation cost of the buses. The report will be placed before chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

The chairman of the committee, education minister Partha Chatterjee, is likely to hand over the report to the chief minister by next week.

“The all-party committee has accepted in principle the expert panel’s conclusion that the operation cost of running buses has risen by 25 per cent rise since the last hike. This means the panel has agreed to a fare hike,” said a committee member. “The details, like whether the hike would be stage-wise or not, are yet to be worked out. It will be the chief minister’s call.”

Minister Chatterjee, however, refused to say whether his committee was going to recommend a hike.

“Fare hikes can’t happen in isolation. The comfort of passengers has to be taken into account. Let’s see,” he said.

The seven-member committee — including SUCI’s Tarun Naskar and former CPM leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah — was set up on July 3 to study private bus operators’ demand for a fare hike.

The all-party committee later set up an expert committee, headed by transport secretary Alapan Bandyopadhyay, to find out whether the bus operators could survive without an immediate hike. Automobile engineers and transportation experts were members of the second committee.

The expert committee studied all documents submitted by private operators and concluded that the operation cost had shot up by around 25 per cent since the fares were last revised in November 2012.

The expert committee, however, has not recommended any hike. “That is not within the purview of the committee,” said an official.

The Mamata Banerjee government’s decision in November 2012 to raise bus fares by Re 1 across the board had drawn protests from operators, who had been demanding a raise for every stage.

Since May, private operators started raising their pitch for a hike, writing first to transport minister Madan Mitra and then to the chief minister, seeking a meeting to discuss their problems.

As the government continued to avoid the issue, the operators threatened to go on a 72-hour strike. The government finally reacted by setting up an all-party committee.

The chief minister had in June admitted in the Assembly that her government was under pressure to increase bus fares.

Without mentioning the hike in petrol and diesel prices, Mamata had said: “What can I do if the Centre increases prices over and over again. So I have asked (transport minister) Madan Mitra to set up an all-party committee. Let them give an opinion and we will act accordingly.”

Tapan Bandyopadhyay, of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, the largest body of private bus operators in Bengal, said: “We are keeping our fingers crossed. If the hike is not what we have been demanding, private operators would think twice before running buses.”

Insiders said the government would make the norms for issuing permits to bus operators more stringent. “The thrust will be on ensuring that the buses are comfortable and roadworthy,” said a source.