The Telegraph
Thursday , November 29 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Writers’ caught in bus jam
Operators dub deal ‘unviable’

The state government’s attempt to get big transport firms to run buses and fill the void left by cash-strapped private operators in Calcutta took a hit on Wednesday as prospective partners dubbed the deal on offer “unviable”.

Two of the six companies that had responded to the government’s proposal did not turn up at a meeting at Writers’ Buildings on Wednesday called to discuss the issue. Among the four who came, two told Metro that the government should be “realistic” if it wants to clean up the transport mess.

Transport department officials told representatives of the companies that had turned up that they were expected to run swanky buses on routes of their choice but at fares fixed by the government.

“We were asked to draw up a draft fare list for the government’s consideration keeping in mind the fares it has recently finalised for private buses in the city. Our business will be anything but viable if we follow the government rate,” said an official of one of the four companies. “The government should not try to dictate terms if it really wants a tie-up and quality service.”

The four firms that attended the meeting were the Calcutta-based Waris Infrastructure and Kaushik Logistics, Gireesh Infrastructure from Hyderabad, and Silicon Tours and Travels from Bangalore.

At the end of the 90-minute meeting, a representative of at least one company said they were not keen on the deal. Others said they would have to think hard before returning with a final call. “The proposal does not seem to be lucrative enough,” was the refrain.

“The government doesn’t seem to be offering the necessary support in terms of infrastructure for plying buses. Besides, there is no word on the tenure of the proposed agreement,” said Santosh Kumar Jha of Kaushik Logistics.

Officials said at the meeting they were in a hurry to see at least 50 new buses on the roads following large-scale withdrawal of vehicles by private operators because of an “unprofitable” fare structure.

“These should be new, non-AC buses, preferably 10 metres long, with a seating capacity of at least 42,” an official said.

In return, the government will only provide permits. The companies will have to take care of parking facilities, ticket counters, terminuses and other logistic details.

“We will have to invest at least Rs 3 crore for 10 buses. That apart there is the cost for parking and other logistical support. The government couldn’t spell out how an operator would stand to gain by participating in such a deal,” said an operator.

“The crisis of buses is artificial. It’s a conspiracy to malign the government,” said transport minister Madan Mitra. “There is a need for buses but that’s not because private buses have disappeared from roads.”