Question 1: Does a state government have the right to hire out publicly owned buses to a political party for a rally'
Question 2: Does a state government have the right to hire out hundreds of publicly owned buses to a political party by denying people transport'
Question 3: Does a state government have the right to hire out these buses to a political party at a discount'
Question 4: Does a political party have the right to commandeer hundreds of private buses for a rally denying people access to transport'
The answer to all four questions is “Yes”.
All four happened last Sunday for the CPM rally.
“We know many people were inconvenienced, for which I am sorry. But ferrying lakhs of people to Brigade was also a big task for us,” said transport minister Subhas Chakraborty.
If in the hiring out of publicly owned buses for a political rally there is the unmistakable suggestion of government and party becoming one entity, the same hint comes out of Chakraborty’s statement.
Chakraborty the minister cites the “big task” of organising the rally he had to perform as politician. The fact that a minister is responsible to the people, and not to the party, is lost.
Chakraborty cannot be singled out because he is merely part of a government that in its entirety decided that it was perfectly ethical to deny people access to transport while the political party that heads it held a rally.
Some 400 state and 6,500 private buses were commandeered by the CPM on the day. The government, which runs state buses that are bought with public money, not only gave itself the freedom to give them out for a rally, but the CPM also got a discount.
Under rules, the managing director of the Calcutta State Transport Corporation has the authority to offer a discount up to 25 per cent when a bus is hired for a “social cause”. The transport minister has the power to go beyond 25 per cent.
“Tomorrow, we will pay Rs 3 lakh to CSTC for hiring state buses,” said Subhas Mukherjee, member of the CPM’s North 24-Parganas district secretariat.
The party’s Calcutta and South 24-Parganas district units are expected to pay Rs 1 lakh each.
If and when these payments are made, the total will come to Rs 5 lakh, which roughly is just over a third of the revenue 400 buses would have earned had they plied commercially.
“We hired 2,500 private buses and have not taken the buses totally free,’’ Mukherjee said.
Some 6,500 private regular and mini buses ' of a total of 8,500 that ply on a Sunday ' were commandeered by the CPM, according to a trade estimate.
The practice is for the party to bear the cost of fuel and pay a token amount of Rs 50-100 to the driver. As opposed to this a private bus earns Rs 3,500 from ticket sales a day.
Bus operators would then have lost out on a revenue of over Rs 2.27 crore.