The forthcoming panchayat polls have given Kolkatans a momentary respite from yet another bus fare hike.
Apprehending that the state government might turn down their demand in an attempt to keep the voters happy during the polls, bus associations in the city have decided against raising the issue of a fare hike until the election is over.
“It will be very difficult for us to survive unless the fare is increased. And it should be done with immediate effect. But we apprehend that the government might turn down our proposal as the rural polls are approaching,” said Dipak Sarkar from the Bengal Bus Syndicate.
On June 1, the bus associations had announced they would meet transport minister Madan Mitra with their demands. But before that they were scheduled to hold a meeting first to decide on the proposed fare. But the first of the two meetings did not happen. Instead, the associations in the state organised a meeting on Thursday where a unanimous decision was taken to place their demands after the panchayat polls.
“The TMC manifesto for the 2011 assembly election said that the party is not going to increase the financial burden on the common people. After a year-long agitation on our part, the government increased the fare on November 1. We are sure it would not increase the fare again just before the panchayat polls keeping in mind its vote-bank,” added Sarkar.
The taxi associations, too, made it clear that they are not going to demand a fare hike immediately. They said they would wait until the diesel price is hiked by another Rs 6 or Rs 7. Members of the bus associations claimed that at present their situation was so bad that several owners are not plying their buses. At least 40% of the 4,200 buses and minibuses in the state are off the roads.
“On May 30, the oil corporations hiked the price of diesel. The present price is Rs 5. 50 more than what it was the last time the bus fare was increased. It is almost impossible for us to run the services with the old fare structure, especially after such an increase,” said Sadhan Das from the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate.
November 1, 2012 was the last time the transport fare was increased in Bengal. However, on November 16, when chief minister Mamata Banerjee attended a programme on SN Banerjee Road, a section of Trinamool leaders convinced her that the fare has been increased unnecessarily and more than required. The chief minister immediately ordered the transport department to revise the fare structure.
“The government revised the fare fifteen days after it was increased. The new fare was less than what was announced on November 1,” said Das.