Clashes between the students and staff of private buses have made headlines in the region over the past few months.
In the most recent instance of violence at Khaira Khurd village in Sardulgarh, a girl was pushed out of a private bus by the staff. Students staged a dharna in protest and the police stepped in. Clashes led to injuries to four cops and three private buses were damaged by angry students.
Private bus operators claim that students do not buy tickets, while the youngsters say that they are forced to travel by these buses as there is shortage of government-run buses on several routes.
An analysis of the issue by HT shows that while violence can never be justified; there is some logic for the students' anger.
Government norms mandate that on any public transport route in Punjab, 60% of the buses have to be government-run and 40% are to be run by private operators. However, the actual ratio on the ground is 70% with private operators and 30% with the government.
So, even as students get passes made that entitle them to travel at concessional rates in government -run buses, there are not enough buses running on the routes that take them to college.
Locals allege that more than 15 government buses miss their villages a miss.
Three months ago, Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal launched a PRTC bus covering Kharia Khurd, Khaira Kalan, Karandi villages and Sangha to Sardulgarh Ring Road.
However, the service lasted only two months and now stands withdrawn for unexplained reasons.
Khaira Khurd sarpanch Bhajan Lal said, "Police are terrorising students by making regular rounds of the village. Students only want a cheap and easy way to get to their colleges. No one wants violence."
Punjab Student Union (Shaheed Randhawa) leader Sumit Singh alleged, "The state government has a flawed policy of promoting private buses at the cost of government-run buses, as the Badal family has interests in the business. Students are harassed in private buses, which charge double the fare of a government-run bus. We either need a college in each village or transport service to-and-fro college must be made free for students."
He claimed that private bus operators assaulted students on a regular basis.
Bathinda PRTC general manager Vinod Kumar said, "We have proposed the induction of 200 buses in our fleet to the government. This is expected to be sanctioned soon. PRTC runs 170 buses in Bathinda, while private operators run more than 300."
INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE
October 24: Private bus staff assaults student in Fazilka. Protests were carried out by students as well as the drivers and conductors. Investigations are on.
October 23: Students staged a dharna on Sardulgarh Ring Road in Mansa against private bus operators and refused to disperse even after police orders. Three private buses damaged and four cops injured in stone pelting. Police used mild force and cane-charged students. More than 150 unidentified people were booked and 26 people were arrested.
September 27: Private bus operators assaulted a Class 10 student inside the school premises of government school Roodikapura village in Faridkot district. The principal lodged a police complaint, but the matter ended in a compromise.
September 21: Punjab Student Union staged protest at Bibi wala road in Bathinda against police inaction in beating up of students in private buses and demanded action against the accused.
September 5: Private bus operators kidnapped and badly assaulted a college student of government NM College Mansa for not buying a ticket.
THE CRUX OF THE PROBLEM
Government-run buses do not maintain the mandatory fleet strength on these routes, forcing the students to board private buses. These do not entertain passes, leading to arguments and often, violent clashes
Private buses - 6,000
Government buses - 2,500
Private buses - 350
Government buses - 170
Private buses - 200
Government buses - 60