Tuesday’s tragedy near Gariahat was not the only time this week that an overworked state bus buckled under a roster that offers no room for rest, repair or retirement.
A few hours after the Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC) bus with damaged brakes ploughed into several vehicles near Bijon Setu, killing two and injuring many others, another CSTC bus suffered a broken axle at Shyambazar. It came to a halt a few hundred metres into its Bagbazar-to-Garia journey, leaving passengers stranded, but unscathed.
On Tuesday, an Amtala-bound bus started from the same depot (Ultadanga) as the Bijon Setu killer-bus. After a few hundred metres, it stopped to pick up passengers, and did not start again. On Monday, another CSTC bus had been forced to off-load passengers near Science City; the accelerator just wouldn’t work.
“All this just shows the condition some of these CSTC buses are in,” said an official.
“Rules say that buses must go for a check after logging 2,000 km and drivers have to report each fault before they start the day,” said CSTC chief mechanical engineer Prabir Banerjee.
But rules are flouted more than followed. “We are actively discouraged from reporting faults. Officers say they don’t have the money for repairs,” alleged a driver at the Kasba depot.
The men behind the CSTC wheel — often guilty of rash driving — know what happened to Dipak Chakroborty could happen to any of them, anytime, anywhere. Chakroborty, the driver of Tuesday’s killer bus, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of reckless driving. He was produced in court and granted bail.
The condition of Sugandha Dasgupta and her domestic help Shefali Baidya, who were in the Fiat whose driver died on the spot, was stated to be stable on Wednesday.
But the condition of an ageing CSTC fleet of a 1,100-odd is deteriorating daily. Only 60 of the buses are “definitely road-worthy” and conform to the auto-emission norms; some have been on the road for over 10 years, a few for 15.
“Sticking to the eight-year-retirement rule is impossible because of a lack of replacements,” said deputy manager P.K. Bhar, pointing to a paucity of funds. “If all rules are followed, 90 per cent of the buses will not journey,” admitted an official.
Can’t the police do anything about this' Not really, claims joint commissioner (traffic) Banibrata Basu. “We cannot book buses for faults that are not obvious. A case can be slapped for a defective tyre or a broken rear-view mirror, but a bus cannot be stopped to check the brakes or steering wheel. That is the job of the public vehicles department,” said Basu.