Pandemic sets back Delhi govt’s bus procurement project by a year
The demand for more buses assumes more importance now as the 2,000 buses presently plying are allowed to carry only 20 passengers each due to social distancing norms against the usual capacity of 40.Updated: May 22, 2020 03:00 IST
The Delhi government’s project to strengthen the Capital’s public transport system by adding a new bus fleet has been adversely affected by the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 as the procurement and arrival of more than 2,800 buses is set to be delayed by almost a year due to revenue shortfall and limitations in manufacturing, according to senior government officials.
The demand for more buses assumes more importance now as the 2,000 buses presently plying are allowed to carry only 20 passengers each due to social distancing norms against the usual capacity of 40. The average daily ridership of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) before the lockdown was around 4 million.
The Delhi government on July 11 last year announced its final procurement plan for 4,000 buses -- all of which should have arrived maximum by this month, according to the schedule shared by the authorities at that time. Ten months later, 1,150 buses including 1,000 non-AC standard-floor and 150 AC low-floor buses, are plying on Delhi’s roads.
Transport minister Kailash Gahlot said the government’s procurement schedule of the 1,000 DTC buses, 1,000 electric buses and 1,000 low-floor CNG buses could now take one full year to be completed. He said in the best-case scenario, a first batch (100 or so) of the remaining 2,850 buses could arrive only by the end of this year.
“The delay will not just be because of the financial constraints we are facing at the moment, but also because of problems faced by bus manufacturers owning to the lockdown. Thankfully, we at least received all of the 1,000 CNG standard-floor buses before the lockdown began on March 25,” Gahlot said.
The government was to receive about 100 AC low-floor buses from JBM Auto Ltd. in April. But they could not arrive because the lockdown got extended. “Even though the restrictions have been relaxed , these buses, even if they arrive in Delhi, cannot be used because they are BS-IV vehicles and could not be registered by April 30, the deadline set by Supreme Court for the registration of BS-IV vehicles,” said one of the officials cited above.
Bus manufacturer JBM Auto Limited said it is awaiting directions from the government with regard to the registration of BS-4 buses that was delayed due to the lockdown, so that their buses can be put to use.
“The company re-opened its plant in Kosi only a week ago and that it is facing shortage of manpower. We are working only on one shift as there is very limited manpower. Many of our workers are in their home towns. Only maintenance work is being carried out as of now. A few people have been issued passes in our plant by the UP government to comply with the Covid-19 guidelines,” said Nishant Arya, Executive Director, JBM Group.
Delhi has a fleet of 6,487 buses of which more than 2,000 are being used for public transport and around 1,400 are on Covid-19 duty. A reason for not being able to run the remaining buses is that the drivers and conductors who live in NCR cities such as Noida, Gurugram, Ghaziabad or Faridabad are facing issues in reaching the depots due to border restrictions by UP and Haryana
According to a second senior official cited above, the lockdown forced DTC to ask finance department to utilise funds (amounting to Rs 325.5 crore and meant to meant for procuring 1,000 AC low-floor buses) to pay salaries to its employees in the coming months if its financial situation does not improve. The main components of DTC’s operating cost are wages and salaries, accounting for around 60%, fuel (CNG), which accounts for nearly 20%, and annual maintenance (nearly 10%).
With public transport shut for more than 50 days and schools closed, DTC is losing more than Rs 2 crore every day in revenue from bus journeys -- who us saying this. To foot the bills for salaries, pensions, statutory and other liabilities, DTC utilised Rs 512.50 crore, which the Delhi government disbursed to the corporation as grant-in-aid for the first quarter of 2020-21.
According to the Delhi economic survey 2018-19, the working losses of DTC were Rs 1,750.37 crore.
A fresh tender for 1,000 electric buses also could be floated not before July, a third official said.
The officials said restrictions in the number of passengers in public transport will continue till things normalise. Delhi Metro, which carries around 2.7 million passengers daily, is also shut, putting extra load on DTC.
Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment, said there could be some learnings from the challenge. “Social distancing rules have given an opportunity to explore ways of decongesting public transport for the future. Even when the Metro opens, it would not suffice because of the new rules. So, the government must use whatever resources are available. Hiring private buses immediately is need of the hour,” she said.