Buses stand idle at Bartand in Dhanbad on Sunday. Picture by Gautam Dey
City buses have been off the roads of Dhanbad for more than a month now, with drivers and conductors of the fleet of 70 refusing to return to work despite Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC) clearing all salary dues on October 10.
Now, services are unlikely to be resumed before the pujas when traffic curbs are imposed on the movement of buses and other large vehicles to keep the roads relatively free for pandal-hoppers.
The real reason behind the drivers’ unwillingness to resume work stems from the state’s insistence that they run the buses for longer hours and generate more revenue.
“What can we do if the drivers and conductors are not willing to generate enough income to pay their own salary?” said JTDC’s city bus service in-charge in Dhanbad Surendra Manjhi.
“We have asked drivers and conductors to generate at least Rs 16 per km so that we can at least manage their salary,” said Manjhi, adding that four or five drivers, who were also working elsewhere illegally, were instigating the others to strike work.
He said service provider Rider Security Service had been told to replace the errant staff with new employees.
The strike, on from September 8 after the bus staff were not paid salaries for three months, was the fifth disruption in services ever since the launch of the city bus service in August 2009.
General manager of Rider Security Service Arun Sinha said drivers and conductors would have to push ticket sales to generate enough to pay themselves as JTDC could not be counted upon to pay them on time. “We can’t understand why they can’t generate enough sales when auto-rickshaw owners and private buses are making easy money on the same routes,” he wondered.
Sinha added that though the JTDC management wanted Rs 16 per kilometre to be generated, the service provider had relaxed the condition to Rs 14 per kilometre.
“When drivers and conductors in Ranchi are bringing in Rs 18 per kilometre, why is it only Rs 10 or 11 in Dhanbad,” he asked, adding they wanted the drivers to raise at least Rs 1,500 per day and reduce dependence on JTDC grants.
The drivers, however, blamed JTDC for the impasse. “JTDC”, said Suraj Singh, “has not provided facilities like proper bus stands and yet wants an increase in ticket sales, which is not possible.”
Another driver, Ranjit Singh, agreed with his colleague regarding poor facilities. “At best, we will be able to provide Rs 14 per kilometre in Dhanbad, but once all facilities are in place. We don’t get enough passengers as people prefer to travel by auto-rickshaws,” he claimed.