The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Private drive out of cash quicksand

Cooch Behar, July 25: The North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC) has decided to hand over 19 of its inter-state routes to private franchisees soon.

'Due to a shortage in our fleet of buses we were not being able to provide vehicles on these routes properly and so we decided to hand over these routes to private franchisees,' said Mohammed Saheb Ali Mian, the NBSTC managing director, over phone from Calcutta. 'This way, we will be able to earn Rs 3.4 lakh per month without having to spend anything.' The decision was taken at a meeting of the NBSTC board, which was held at Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta yesterday.

The process of looking for franchisees began almost a year ago, when tenders were floated, inviting private parties to bid for the deal and tenders were awarded. The franchisees have been waiting for the final clearance from the board.

'The tenders were floated about a year ago and we had a favourable response. After the selection, we took a security deposit of Rs 10,000 from each of the agents,' said Mohammed Saheb Ali Mian, the managing director of the NBSTC. 'They will have to operate the service on their own initiative and will have to deposit an amount with NBSTC after every month. The money to be deposited has been agreed upon after a meeting between the transport corporation and the private operators.' The amounts ' ranging between Rs 44,000 and Rs 9,000 ' will depend on the stretch of the roads.

The buses will be provided by private operators, but they should have the NBSTC logo. Even the drivers will have to sport the state transport corporation livery, a source said.

The decision was finalised by state transport minister Subhas Chakrabarty, who, along with transport secretary Sumanta Chowdhury and the NBSTC managing director, Saheb Ali Mian, was present at yesterday's meeting.

A source at the NBSTC head office here said the routes included those connecting north Bengal with towns in Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand. Apart from these 19 inter-state routes, the NBSTC will later hand over around 100 routes to private franchisees.

The Forward Bloc's trade union body, the TUCC, however, did not seem content with the decision. According to the members of union body, the move was a step towards privatisation of the NBSTC. The TUCC president of the drivers' and mechanics' association, Abdur Rahaman, said the development was not at all labour-friendly and the decision was not expected of the Left Front.

The secretary of the Citu-affiliated union of the NBSTC, Jagatjyoti Dutta, however, declined to comment.

According to a source in the NBSTC, there were 850 buses on paper, but only around 450 could ply on roads. The situation has forced the corporation to withdraw services from profit-making routes, the source added.

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