India-Pakistan buses struggle to get passengers
In 2006, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had flagged off the Punj-aab bus between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib as a confidence building measure and to connect people from across the border. Then, Pakistan reciprocated by starting the ‘Dosti’ bus the same year.punjab Updated: May 25, 2017 17:27 IST
An Indo-Pakistan bus service started a decade ago between the Sikh holy cities of Nankana Sahib and Amritsar is on its last legs with few passengers and bureaucratic hassles worsened by deteriorating bilateral ties.
In 2006, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had flagged off the Punj-aab bus between Amritsar – the seat of the holy Golden Temple -- and Nankana Sahib – where Sikh guru Nanak was born --- as a confidence-building measure and to connect people from across the border. Then, Pakistan reciprocated by starting the ‘Dosti’ bus the same year, with much fanfare.
But on Wednesday morning, the 40-seater Dosti bus from the Pakistan side did not have a single passenger when it left the local Indo-Pak bus terminal.
“There was a time when these buses were doing well. Initially, there was waiting list for tickets. But now, it is opposite. Had Pakistan a visa centre here, things may have picked up,” a Punjab Roadways official said.
BUSES HALTED ON PAKISTAN SIDE
There are many reasons such as difficulty in getting visas, deteriorating ties between the two countries or even the fact that these buses are halted at Wagah on the Pakistan side and not allowed to enter cities there on security grounds.
There is also extra cost involved due to the security attached with them. Officials concerned did not share the exact amount of losses the department has been incurring.
These buses travelled up to Lahore and Nankana Sahib but after 2015, the buses were halted at Wagah by Pakistani authorities on security grounds. Passengers are taken ahead on Pakistani shuttles.
Even if a bus does not have a single passenger, it gets a pilot vehicle carrying nearly 10 guards. In May, the Punj-aab bus carried just two passengers in eight trips between Amritsar and Lahore. In April, it got just one passenger in seven trips between the two cities. In May, the Pakistani bus got six passengers in eight trips and eight passengers in six trips between Amritsar and Lahore. On the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib route, the Indian bus got just one passenger in eight trips in April and one passenger in six trips in May.
The Pakistani bus got six passengers in eight trips in April and five passengers in six trips in May. The buses commute between the two countries on every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The ticket rate to Lahore is Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,600 to Nankana Sahib.
TWO INDIAN DRIVERS STILL AWAIT PAK VISA
Of the three Indian drivers attached with these buses, two are awaiting for their Pakistani visas since March. As a result, only one driver is doing the duty and driving the Indian bus.
“We are managing with just one driver. Passports of two drivers are at the Pakistani embassy since March,” an official said.