BMC rebuffs BEST’s plea for ₹1,400 cr aid | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

BMC rebuffs BEST’s plea for 1,400 cr aid

Jun 24, 2024 06:38 AM IST

Cash-strapped BEST seeking ₹1,400 crore aid from BMC. Talks of possible bus fare hike to generate revenue. BMC asks for revenue options, sparking discussions.

Mumbai: The cash-strapped Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking has sought aid worth 1,400 crore from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to tide over its financial troubles. But the BMC, BEST’s parent body, asked the undertaking to proactively explore options for revenue generation during a meeting held two days ago, sparking talks of a possible hike in bus fares after a period of nearly 6-7 years.

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The more-than-a-century-old BEST is mired in a host of problems such as the delayed supply of new orders for buses and frequent threats of protest from staff of wet lease bus operators. But its biggest concern is finances – the undertaking has been suffering cumulative losses, its accrued loans have reached 6,000 crore, and it needs 600 crore to pay gratuity and pension to retired employees alone.

In its budget for 2024-25, BMC allocated 800 crore for BEST to cover infrastructure augmentation, procurement of equipment, loan repayment, wet lease of new buses, implementation of the integrated traffic management system project, payment of Diwali bonus, gratuity, electricity dues and day-to-day expenses.

“We have sought financial aid worth 1,400 crore from the civic body over and above what was allocated in the budget,” said a senior BEST official.

Sources said that during a meeting held between the BMC and BEST earlier last week, the civic body asked the latter to look for revenue generation options. “We require more funds because in the past, higher amounts would be allocated for BEST. But we have been asked to look for revenue generation options. Hike in bus fares is the most likely option, which needs to be worked out,” said the BEST official.

Earlier this year, in March, BEST implemented a significant price hike for daily, weekly, and monthly bus passes. The hike was steepest for monthly passes, particularly those with a higher number of trips.

Apart from a possible hike in bus fares, BEST will continue looking at options for redevelopment of bus depots to ramp up revenues. As of now, depots at Dindoshi, Wadala and Deonar have been shortlisted for the same. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is in talks with the undertaking for redevelopment of these depots through the public-private partnership route, with IFC taking care of formulating architectural designs, development plans and detailed cost estimates.

However, BEST employees and civil society activists said the BMC must come to the aid of transport utility to help improve its financial situation. “We have demanded that the administration should ensure a fleet of 3,337 buses and the budget should be merged with the BMC for better financial health,” said Shashank Sharad Rao from the BEST Workers’ Union.

“It is the civic body’s duty to fund BEST buses and they cannot shy away from it. When crores of rupees are being spent on other projects, why can’t they fund more buses which the city needs. Presently, the wait period for buses has increased to 30-40 minutes,” said Rupesh Shelatkar, who heads the NGO, Aapli BEST Aaplyasathi.

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