|Buses stand idle at Bartand in Dhanbad during Monday’s transport strike. The statewide chakka jam hit Dhanbad partially as around 100 private buses meant to ferry passengers to cities in and beyond the state like Bokaro, Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Bhagalpur, Aurangabad, Nalanda, Bihar Sharif, Munger and Asansol stayed off roads. About half-a-dozen buses, however, plied in the evening on passenger request. School buses as well as city buses did not take part in the strike. Autos and trucks also ran normally. Picture by Gautam Dey
Some were fleeced by rickshaw-pullers, some walked miles, yet for others, arriving in Ranchi meant a forced stopover and a taste of the chief minister’s dal-bhat meal of Rs 5 — Monday’s transport strike translated into untold misery for commuters.
While as many as 15,000 buses — including those meant to ferry schoolchildren — stayed off the roads around the state, in the capital, 3,000 intra and inter-state long distance buses did not budge.
The much-maligned yet much-needed city buses operated by Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation were also unable to alleviate the misery, pushed off the roads as they were by the agitators.
“At 6am, we took out 30 buses. The bandh enforcers started manhandling our men. At Shaheed Maidan, they punctured tyres, forcing us to call back all buses by 7.30am,” said Dhananjay Singh, an executive of Ask Security, the private agency which provides personnel to run the city buses in Ranchi.
Brakes on autos
Of the 7,000 odd auto-rickshaws that usually ferry commuters in Ranchi on a normal day, hardly 200 were on the roads. The few that ran were those that did not belong to any of the transport unions backing the strike.
It was the rickshaw-puller’s day in Ranchi as in the absence of any other form of transport, commuters were forced to turn to them.
“Rickshaws are asking for Rs 200 to go from Ranchi station to Kutchery Chowk. As I could not afford that, I had to walk the four kilometres,” said Silli resident Bhagirath Mahto who came to the capital by train to attend a court case.
The worst affected were people who got off trains at Ranchi station only to find there was no transport available to take them to their destinations. Many were forced to carry their luggage as they walked, while others desperately hunted for a place to put up in.
“We have come from Aurangabad. We were supposed to proceed to Jamshedpur immediately, but the bandh put paid to all plans. We have very little money and we cannot afford food in hotels. Someone told us about the mukhya mantri dal bhat yojana and we are going to eat there and spend the night at Khadgarha bus-stand,” said Satendra Kumar, who was travelling with his uncle Pradeep Kumar.
The bandh was in response to the state government’s decision not to renew licences of vehicles more than 15 years old in pursuance of a May 15 Jharkhand High Court directive. Transport unions like Jharkhand Bus Owners Association, Jharkhand Truck Owners Association, Jharkhand Diesel Auto Chalak Sangh, Ranchi Mini Truck Owners Association, Hatia Goods Transport Association et al joined hands and called the “chakka jam”.
“Under Section 59 of Central Motor Vehicle Act, only the Centre can decide on the retirement age of a vehicle. A long-distance bus travels 1000km a day and a city bus travels 150km a day. Should both be laid off after a particular number years? This kind of calculation is illogical,” said Sachidanand Singh, president of Jharkhand Bus Owners’ Association.
At various places, agitators burnt tyres and disturbed traffic, aimed at blocking commercial vehicles coming in from other states. Members of Jharkhand Truck Owners’ Association took out a rally from Ratu Road to Albert Ekka Chowk. Over 200 were arrested by the city police and then let off.