The Telegraph
Monday , January 6 , 2014
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Brace for bus strike

Six unions of private bus operators have called a 24-hour strike on Monday, demanding immediate fare hike. The state government has shot down the demand.

Metro assesses the situation that the commuters are likely to face on the road on the first working day of the year’s second week.

■ How many buses will stay off the road?

Close to 8,000, including 2,500 minibuses, in Calcutta and its suburbs. This means almost the entire fleet of private buses in the city will be off the road. Across the state, around 42,000 buses are likely to be off the road.

■ What is the duration of the strike?

Twenty-four hours, from 6am on Monday to 6am on Tuesday.

■ If you use public transport, what is the situation likely to be?

The few buses that will ply will be overcrowded. The domino effect may be felt on taxis and Metro trains. Both services will operate as usual but they will have more takers. That means the probability of getting a taxi will be less on Monday.

There is a silver lining though. If the government’s record is anything to go by, it will make good on its promise to run additional government buses on Monday. Bus unions had to call off a 48-hour strike in September less than two hours after it had started as the government did not pay heed to their demand to raise fares.

■ What are the arrangements the government claims to have made to reduce harassment of passengers?

The government on Sunday said commuters would not face any problem because around 5,000 public buses will be on the road to ferry them. On a normal day, only 1,200 state-run buses are on the road. “All the employees have been asked to report for duty. During office hours buses will be available at Howrah and Sealdah stations,” said a state transport department official. Ferry services from Howrah will operate normally, too, he said.

■ Have any examinations been rescheduled?

Calcutta University and Presidency University have not rescheduled any exam. Both universities are conducting postgraduation exams. “All exams of Calcutta University will be held as schedule,” said vice-chancellor Suranjan Das. Rabindra Bharati University has rescheduled Monday’s BA and BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) exams to January 17. Monday’s distance education exams of the university will be held the next day. Jadavpur University has no exam scheduled for Monday.

■ How many unions have joined the strike?

Six, across the state.

■ What are the unions demanding?

A 60 per cent fare hike because of the rise in diesel prices and setting up of a regulatory commission that will recommend fare revisions at fixed intervals. “We want the state government to increase the fares with immediate effect. It is becoming impossible for us to operate buses with the existing fares,” said Tapan Banerjee, the joint secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate. The other demands of the unions include repair of roads and stop “random” slapping of cases on buses by police.

■ When was the last time the fares were revised?

November 1, 2012. That has been the only fare hike since Mamata Banerjee came to power in May 2011. The fares were raised by a flat Re 1 in keeping with the chief minister’s policy of not burdening commuters.

“The price of the diesel has been hiked 16 times since the last revision. It has gone up by Rs 9.45 a litre,” said Banerjee.

■ What is the government’s stand on the revision of fares?

Transport minister Madan Mitra said on Sunday the government was not considering the demand to raise fares. “We are appealing to the unions to withdraw the strike. We’ll not allow any harassment of commuters,” said Mitra.

The minister has time and again said at meetings with representatives of bus unions that non-revision of fares has at the most marginally lowered the profits of the owners. He said the government did not believe that bus owners were incurring loses in the absence of a fare hike.

“The government thinks we are lying. But we invite the transport minister to come and join us and get a first-hand experience of operating this business to assess if we are telling the truth or not,” said Abasesh Daw, secretary, Mini Bus Operators Coordination Committee.