What is perhaps more shocking than the deaths caused by Delhi’s ‘killer’ bus fleet is Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s statement, “I wish we had control over all this but unfortunately we don’t”. Ms Dikshit seems convinced that accidents caused by the privately-operated Bluelines are a result of failed police machinery. This is partly true. Ms Dikshit’s helplessness is an unfortunate display of passing the buck. This buck, costing lives, however, must stop somewhere. Public transport and its operations are the responsibility of the Government of Delhi, of Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf, in particular. Mr Yusuf has stated that installing the global positioning system (GPS) is the only way to prevent Bluelines from mowing down people. In the latest accident last week, seven people were mowed down by a DTC bus stopping in the middle of the road. Is the state transport department not at all responsible for where its buses stop and start? Road management is not the police’s job alone it is also the state’s duty. And there is something unacceptable in the way Bluelines are allowed to play truant again and again and again.
It is the Transport Department that issues the permits and fitness certificates to buses. It is this department that issues licences to drivers. It is also this department that is responsible for running DTC buses. But it is no secret that private operators regularly pay DTC drivers to ‘go slow’ so that the bulk of passengers opt for Bluelines. It is also well known that Blueline buses are registered in the names of (at times fictitious) ‘contractors’, while the actual owners include politicians. The drivers, whose job is to ‘maximise returns’, buy multiple licences. After every ‘accident’, these same drivers are moved from one route to another. Otherwise, they do minimal jail time — all the while working unbelievable hours, driving buses, most of which have speed governors that have been tampered. Accidents become little but collateral damage. Are there no guidelines, no framework of ‘public service’, that Blueline owners/operators are legally accountable for? If not, surely the government can ask for a review of the laws?
If the government has the will, it can very well overhaul the system. The policing machinery, rotten as it is, will have to fall in line. True, jailed drivers find themselves back on the road within a day; impounded buses continue to ply with impunity; and the issuance of licences and fitness certificates continues to be a thriving racket for transport officials working in cahoots with the police. But the buck for public transport stops at the CM’s table. The cost of state inaction can only mean more lives. But how can we expect things to change when the inspector and the inspected are one and the same?