Protests, confusion in Ludhiana on first day of free bus scheme for women
The free bus service for women triggered protests by the Punbus Contract Employee Union, who said that the move would result in losses.
The day was also marred with confusion as the women were caught unaware and were seen wanting for Aadhaar cards.
Representatives of the union feared that the new scheme would immensely benefit women, but render the department bankrupt and ultimately lead to the closing of the government bus service.
The vice-president of the Contractual Workers’ Union, Gurpreet Singh, said the union welcomed the step of free travel: “However, we fail to understand how the government will manage to run such schemes with empty coffers. It is nothing but an election gimmick. No funds have been allocated in the recent budget for government transport vehicles. Punjab Roadways has 250 buses in 18 depots, while PRTC has a fleet of 1,800, of which around 1,500 buses are run by being hired from a private bus operator who is paid for each kilometre.”
He further added that during the time of elections, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had vowed to eradicate the private transport mafia, but nothing was done. On the other hand, the government buses were running into losses with each passing day, he said.
Due to the protest, the launch of the free bus scheme was delayed by over an hour. Earlier it was stated that cabinet minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu would inaugurate the scheme at 12 noon, but later deputy commissioner Varinder Sharma, along with MLA Surinder Dawar, district Congress committee president Ashwani Sharma and Youth Development Board president Sukhwinder Singh Bindra launched it at 1pm.
Confusion prevailed at the ticket counter as many women were seen calling their relatives to the bus stand to handover their Aadhaar cards or driving licences.
Puja, 23, who was travelling with a friend, said she was not carrying any identity card: “It was only after reaching here that I learned of the free travel scheme for women, but since I was not carrying an identity proof, I had to pay for the ticket.”
Scheme will encourage independence
Neha and Sonia, residents of Doraha and Samrala, respectively, said they were excited about the new government scheme. The scheme will help women immensely in making them independent and also lessen the financial burden the family incurring on their education.
“Earlier we used to travel through student passes. Renewing it was a tedious process. Sometimes we used to shell out money to travel through private buses. With government making travelling in government buses free for women anywhere in the state, it has opened abundant opportunities for us,” said the duo, who are NCC cadets.
Vina Rani, Nisha, Mamta, Nirmala and Simarjit, who were visiting a shrine at Nakodar, said: “Earlier we used to request our husbands to ferry us because we could not travel by public transport due to financial constraints. Now that travel is free, we have decided to visit each district and town of Punjab.”
Demands of protesting union
The union members want regularisation of contractual staff working for over 12 years; implementation of equal pay for equal work; inclusion of new buses to meet the need of rising population; and proper availability of spare parts at the workshop for timely maintenance of buses.