| Netherlands Ambassador in India Alphonsus Stoelinga takes an auto ride and (below) a private bus in Patna on Wednesday. Pictures by Nagendra Kumar Singh and Ashok Sinha
Public transport in Patna is allergic to change, especially when it is for the better.
No wonder overloading is still common in autorickshaws and cancer-causing buses more than 15 years old are seen on the roads despite a transport department order to impose ban on them from mid-October.
Autorickshaws are also supposed to charge fixed tariff from people and display tariff card as well but no such system is being followed. Authorities as well as operators seem to be responsible for the slackness in implementation of such directives and the resulting inconvenience to the residents.
The state transport authority in its meeting on July 15 last year had taken the decision to stop the operation of buses, tempo, autorickshaws and school buses which are more than 15 years old in the town area.
The decision was taken in the light of an order issued by the Supreme Court in 1998, banning commercial vehicles and cars that were more than 15 years old. The operators were asked to replace the ramshackle vehicles with new ones on the same permit within three months.
Though the deadline passed couple of months ago, the district transport office is waiting for document-related formalities to bring the polluting vehicles to book.
“We cannot start seizing the old vehicles or start cancelling their permits on our own unless we get a directive regarding the same from either the state transport authority or the transport department. We have not got such a directive till date,” said a senior district transport official.
Sources said out of the 375 buses being run under the City Service Mini Bus Seva, around 100 are expected to be older than 15 years. A few hundred autorickshaws and six-seaters are also expected to be more than 15 years old.
The operators are also reluctant in removing the health-hazard causing buses and are passing the buck to the authorities.
“Following an order of Patna High Court given in 2008, the transport department imposed a green tax at the rate of 10 per cent of the total tax on vehicles over 12 years old. The bus owners are still paying the green tax. Then how come the government is asking us to get rid of the vehicles all of a sudden? The government is violating its own norms,” said Umesh Singh, the general secretary of Nagar Seva Mini Bus Owner Association.
Scientists with the Bihar State Pollution Control Board have claimed that vehicles older than 15 years emit higher levels of respiratory suspended particulate matter (PM10 and 2.5), the level of which is already very high in Patna than the national permissible level. These vehicles also emit higher volumes of nitrogen oxide , another air pollutant identified as carcinogenic (cancer-causing agents) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Apparently, Patna occupies the 48th position among 1,100 cities in the WHO’s database on urban outdoor air pollution that covers the period from 2003 to 2010.
Apart from hazardous buses, autorickshaw operators have also denied to stop overloading or implement the tariff-related norms.
“Overloading according to the Motor Vehicles Act is said to happen when the passenger sits on the running board (engine), which earlier used to be under the driver’s seat. But now it is placed mostly on the rear of most autorickshaws. Thus, people sitting on either side of the driver should not qualify for overloading. It is in this context that the fares need to be revised. Till the time the transport department makes changes in the norms, autorickshaws would continue to run in the same manner,” said Raj Kumar Jha, the secretary of Patna Zila Auto Chalak Sangh.
Transport minister Brishin Patel seemed almost blank when queried on the issue of old vehicles.
“I remember that a directive was issued to prohibit old vehicles from plying but I cannot say anything about the latest development in this regard. However, it has been decided that the permit of such old vehicles would not be renewed,” Patel said on Wednesday (February 26).
Transport secretary R.K. Mahajan on Wednesday claimed to issue standing instructions to the officials concerned to take requisite actions.
“Plying commercial vehicles more than 15 years old in Patna is illegal. The state and road transport authority have already stopped issuing permits to such vehicles. Any such vehicle plying on the streets is punishable with a penalty of Rs 5,000. Accordingly, I am going to issue standing instructions to the officials concerned to take suitable action against the offenders,” said Mahajan.
The state transport authority in its decision taken in July last year on prohibition of old vehicles had also stated that owners having old vehicles should necessarily get new ones to run on the same permit within three months. The decision also stated that if new vehicles were not brought within the stipulated time then old permits would be terminated. The decision was taken in the light of an order given by Supreme Court of India in 1998, banning the plying of commercial vehicles and cars more than 15 years old.
Environmentalists have also condemned the gov-ernment for its laxity on the issue.
“The order issued by the transport department was sheer paperwork formalities. The department does not seem to have taken any sincere step to ensure its implementation. In fact, all environmental laws are being blatantly flouted. The old buses are a big threat to the already polluted air in the city. It’s a shame that the government can’t execute its own decisions,” said Ashok Ghosh, a member of the state-level expert appraisal committee — the technical panel of State Environment Impact Assessment Authority.