Deepak jostles for space in an overloaded auto in Mandu, Ramgarh, on Monday. Picture by Vishvendu Jaipuriar
Deepak Sharma, who was returning to his Hazaribagh home after three months, was taken aback to find no passenger vehicle at Ranchi bus stand on Monday. The Class XII student of Nirmala Foundation Educational Trust, Mumbai, was even more surprised to know that autos were charging Rs 200 for a ride that normally cost Rs 120-Rs 130 in a bus. But with no other option, he hopped onto a jam-packed auto
Deepak is not the only one paying a heavy price for absence of long-distance buses in Hazaribagh and Ranchi as a huge chunk of the fleet has been taken away for the April 17 polls. Hundreds of commuters are being forced to shell out extra to travel between the two districts with autos cashing in on the vacuum created by fewer inter-district buses on roads to earn some fast bucks. Regular travellers, who need to commute between the two districts for work or business, and also the ones like Deepak have no choice, but get fleeced knowingly.
“Koi upay to hain nahi iske alava (There is no other option apart from this). But it’s true, the journey becomes very tiring for me,” Deepak said.
At Ramgarh’s Mandu that falls under Hazaribagh constituency, many passengers sipping tea at roadside dhabas blamed the district administration for failing to make any alternative arrangement for bus passengers.
“No one spares a thought for us. They (the administration) seizes all vehicles in one go, leaving us in the hands of a bunch of greedy tempo walas,” complained one.
The passenger was referring to the three-wheelers, which try to fit in as many people and luggage as possible, not to forget the bumpy ride on the dusty, potholed roads.
“Zara sochiye 100km ek tempo mein safar karne ke baad kya halat hogi (Just imagine our state after travelling in a tempo for 100km),” he added.
Autorickshaw owner Mithilesh Kumar, however, thinks that they are doing a favour to passengers. “We are not taking advantage of the situation, but giving service to passengers who otherwise would have been faced inconvenience in the absence of buses on the roads. Have you seen the condition of the roads that we have to negotiate everyday? I don’t think we are charging too much,” Mithilesh said.
Bus owners admitted that the situation was similar in other districts too, but number of people travelling between Hazaribagh and Ranchi was maximum.
Sources said the administration needed 156 buses and 350 small vehicles while Hazaribagh has around 150 four-wheelers. Hazaribagh bus owners’ association president Pradeep Kumar said they parted with 100 buses. The rest are likely to be drawn from schools.
“Our hands are tied, we cannot do anything. It is for the administration to look into the problems faced by the passengers and take appropriate action,” he added.
District transport officer Vinod Kumar reasoned that Lok Sabha elections were a big affair and they needed buses to ferry poll officials and personnel.
“It’s only justified if we expect a little cooperation from bus owners. The administration is taking buses on the basis of requirement only,” he added.