They know no speed limits, overtake dangerously, and kill one person every third day on Delhi roads. But they continue their killing spree with impunity. The reason: patronage of politicians, bureaucrats and, of course, traffic policemen.
The toll has already reached 13 this year. On Sunday, a Blueline bus killed a man and destroyed a family. While the Bluelines recklessly continue to break rules, the traffic police tend to look the other way.
While the police take bribes and turn a blind eye, there has been much dilly-dallying in making policy changes too as many important people are involved in the Blueline business.
Why they can't be touched?
“It is a well-oiled system no one wants to change," said a former top transport department official. He said most bus operators have the backing of some politician or the other. “Even if a politician does not directly own the buses, they patronize bus operators. The bus mafia, on the other hand, help them through money and material resources during elections,” he said.
“Both transport department officials and traffic policemen are regularly bribed and the buses of big operators are never touched,” he said.
“Plans of corporatisation are not new but they have never been implemented because no one wants to displease politicians or policemen who own the buses,” he said.
Who owns buses?
“Buses owned by politicians are run benami (in someone else's name. Their distant relatives or supporters take care of the operations," a transport department official said. "The government doesn't want to implement any plan till the elections," said a south Delhi-based bus operator.
"Whenever we apprehend a Blueline for breaking the law, the driver immediately dials up the number of some politician and makes us talk to him," said a motor vehicle inspector. "Most of them are small-time politicians who drop names of bigger politicians or sometimes it is big politicians themselves. As a result, we do not take any action," he said.
All Blueline drivers maintain a diary and keep it handy. The diary doesn't contain their memoirs but details of which traffic policemen they paid and how much. This is another big open secret of the bus business -owners have to pay Rs 150-200 per traffic intersection each month. While smaller routes have 20-25 entry points, meaning a total amount of Rs 3,000-5,000, most routes have 30-40 points where 'entry fee' is paid, sources said.
"The operation used to be brazen till a year ago. Traffic policemen would even sign the driver's diary as a receipt," said a bus operator, who runs about 15 buses on a south Delhi route.
The 'entry' used to be Rs 100 earlier. It was increased to Rs 200 after the fine amount was hiked by the court last year, a Delhi government official said. "While many bus drivers pay the amount at the intersection itself, most prefer to send a lump sum amount monthly to senior officials directly," he said.
Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) SN Srivastava said that he was aware of allegations that bus operators paid money to policemen but declined to comment if they were true. "We deal with all such allegations with seriousness and take steps so that on one can escape the law. We put decoy policemen on buses to note violations and such buses are challaned," he said.
Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.