The Telegraph
Tuesday , June 24 , 2014
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CM admits fare-hike pressure

The government had to set up a committee to look into bus operators’ demand for a fare hike as pressure to address the issue was building up, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said in the Assembly on Monday.

Aamader ajosro bar bola hoyechhe bus-er bhara barano hok… kintu aamra manusher opor bojha chapiye di ni (We were told innumerable times to increase bus fares but we have not done so because we do not want to increase the burden on the people).

Aamra chepe chepe shojhyo korchi kintu aamader-o ekta limit achhe. (We have been taking the pressure, but there is a limit to it),” the chief minister said while taking part in a discussion on a resolution brought by Trinamul protesting the hike in railway fares.

Without mentioning the hike in petrol and diesel prices, Mamata said the Centre had increased the prices several times.

“What can I do if the Centre increases prices over and over again. So I have asked (transport minister) Madan Mitra to set up an all-party committee. Let them give an opinion and we will act accordingly,” she said.

Mitra had on Wednesday announced that an eight-member committee — including a representative each of the CPM, Congress and the BJP — would look into the bus operators’ demand for a fare hike. The other members of the first all-party committee of the Mamata Banerjee government would be from Trinamul.

The CPM later said it would not join the panel.

The transport minister’s announcement came a day after six unions of private bus operators threatened to go on a 72-hour strike from May 25 if the government did not allow a fare hike.

“We understand private bus operators (who collectively control nearly 72 per cent of the transport pie in Bengal) are facing problems and that is why a committee has been set up look into the demand for a fare revision,” Mitra told Metro. “This committee will submit its report within a month.”

Tapan Bandyopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, the largest body of private bus operators in Bengal and one of the six unions that had threatened the strike, said: “We will wait till the committee submits its report. If the fares are not increased, we know what to do.”

The Mamata government had last revised fares in November 2012. The Re-1 hike across the board drew sharp protests from operators, who had been demanding a raise for every phase.

From early 2013, as returns from buses started dwindling because of rising oil prices, operators joined hands and started pleading with the transport minister to hear them out. As the government remained firm not to allow a hike and owners plunged into the red with an increasing debt burden, buses started disappearing from the roads.

Every time a bus strike was called to press for a fare hike, Mitra tackled the situation either by promising to look into the operators’ demand or threatening to cancel their permits.

This time, however, it could be different.

“The price of diesel has gone up 21 times since the last fare revision. Every time the oil price went up, we wrote to the transport minister explaining our plight,” said Bandyopadhyay of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates.

“When we realised that the transport minister would not act, we wrote to the chief minister on June 2, telling her that we would take a call within a fortnight if there was no decision on the issue by then. On June 17 we decided to go on a 72-hour strike from June 25.”

Within 24 hours, the government swung into action by announcing the formation of an all-party committee.

Mamata’s letter

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Monday he had received a letter from Mamata Banerjee, asking for his help to restore the 600-odd MBBS seats at state-run medical colleges scrapped by the Medical Council of India (MCI) for infrastructural and other lapses.

“I have received the letter from the Bengal CM and forwarded it to the MCI,” Harsh Vardhan said over the phone from Delhi on Monday evening. “I, too, feel that the seats should be restored as the fate of hundreds of students are involved.”

He said his ministry had formed a committee to hear what the state intends to do to improve infrastructure at the medical colleges.