The private bus transporters have been taking the Punjab government for a ride, as it is now official that 659 of the 3,543 commercial buses registered in the state have no permit.
By ferrying passengers illegally, their owners evade transport tax of Rs 3.03 for each kilometre travelled. Even by a conservative estimate of 100 km covered daily, the state exchequer is deprived of at least Rs 2 lakh a day, or Rs 7 crore a year. HT scanned an affidavit that the state transport commissioner had submitted to the Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday about the total buses, and compared it with the official permit figures it had secured, to discover the big gap that had skipped the eyes of the huge transport department machinery.
The Badals-owned Orbit Aviation, Taj Travels and Dabwali Transport Company (DTC) own 116 route permits collectively, far fewer than their actual fleet of 163 buses, according to the official data. Keeping into account the state transport policy that allows a single extra bus for every 10 permits, the Badals' fleet still has 36 buses running illegally in the state they rule.
Of the 116 permits, 62 belong to Orbit Aviation, 64 to DTC, and 37 to Taj Travels, while 163 buses of the Badals are registered with the Bathinda district transport office (DTO). Jujhar Construction and Travels and Jujhar Passenger Bus Service, both owned by the Badals' close associate Gurdeep Singh of Fastway Transmission cable network, have a total fleet of 83 buses against only 18 permits. The buses are registered with the DTOs in Ludhiana (51) and Moga (32).
Asked to comment, Ludhiana-based Gurdeep Singh of the Jujhar group said that there was a gap between his total permits and buses indeed, but 11 of his buses were leased out to "other permit owners" and a few were idle for years after accidents, and so their permits had not been renewed. Gurdeep denied that his 51 buses were registered at the Ludhiana DTO alone, even as the official record has the registration numbers of these coaches.
Muktsar district planning board chairman and Gidderbaha 'halqa' (territory) in-charge of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Hardeep Singh Dimpy Dhillon, has 114-bus fleet registered with the Muktsar DTO, against only 60 permits. Of these buses, 55 are in the name of New Deep Bus Service and 59 in the name of 'New Deep Motors Registered Channu Gidderbaha.
The other main defaulters reflected in the official route-permit list include Libra Bus Service; New Fatehgarh; New Piyar Bus Service, Amritsar; New Sutlej Transport Company, Jalandhar; Raj Transport, Amritsar; Ambala Bus Syndicate, Ropar; and A2Z Transport, Sangrur. Senior Congress leader Avtar Henry is among the defaulters with 74 buses against 35 permits. When contacted, Henry's son, Junior Sanghera, claimed that both their companies - Kartar Bus Service, Jalandhar, and Kartar Tourist Bus Service -more permits than buses actually. "I do not believe this (official) data," he said.
Punjab transport secretary Anurag Aggarwal put the entire onus of maintaining the official data on the state transport commissioner, saying: "The STC is responsible for all such things." STC Ashwani Kumar did not take the repeated calls made to him in the past two days to get his version.
Additional STC Harmel Singh, when contacted, said the gap between the total buses and permits could not be so high.
When confronted with the data, he said the permits might not have been renewed in some cases. "The regional transport authorities (RTAs) issue the permits, while the registration is done at the DTO offices. I cannot say anything more," he added. The state has four RTAs, one each in Ferozepur, Bathinda, Patiala and Jalandhar, to issue route permits in respective regions; and the DTOs' job is to inspect the buses en route in their jurisdictions.
The list that the state transport department had submitted in the high court mentioned companies that owned 3,543 private buses in the state against 2,508 of the state-run Pepsu Road Transport Corporation (PRTC) and Punjab Roadways. The affidavit was silent on route permits.
Owners (companies) Buses
Permit-fleet gap for major defaulters
Orbit Aviation 62
Taj Travels 37
Dabwali Transport Company 64
Total fleet 163
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 14,000
Badals' aide Gurdeep Singh of Fastway
Jujhar Construction and Travels 51
Jujhar Passenger Bus Service 32
Total fleet 83
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 20,000
Dimpy Dhillon, SAD's Gidderbaha 'halqa' in-charge
New Deep Bus Service 55
New Deep Motors Regd. Channu Gidderbaha 59
Total fleet 114
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 17,000
Senior Congress leader Avtar Henry
Kartar Bus Service
Jalandhar and Kartar Tourist Bus Service
Total fleet 74
Number of permits 35
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 12,000
Libra Bus Service
Total fleet 68
Number of permits 28
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 12,000
Total fleet 38
Number of permits 19
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 6,000
New Piyar Bus Service, Amritsar
Total fleet 32
Number of permits 11
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 6,400
New Sutlej Transport Company, Jalandhar
Total fleet 58
Number of permits 13
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 13,635
Raj Transport, Amritsar
Total fleet 59
Number of permits 26
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 10,000
Ambala Bus Syndicate, Ropar
Total fleet 77
Number of permits 29
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 14,500
A2Z Transport, Sangrur
Total fleet 20
Number of permits 10
Estimated loss to exchequer per day Rs 3,000