ISBTs in Delhi set to reopen this week
After nearly three-and-a-half months, interstate bus services are set to resume in Delhi this week, senior government officials said Saturday.
The resumption of these services would mean that all three interstate bus terminals (ISBTs) in Delhi—Anand Vihar, Kashmere Gate, and Sarai Kale Khan—would reopen.
Once operational, fewer passengers than usual may board buses; no passenger will be allowed to stand. At the ISBTs, provisions are being made for the disinfection of buses after each trip, as well as the screening of passengers. The departures and arrivals of buses will also be staggered to avoid crowding, government officials said.
In Delhi, interstate bus services were suspended on March 21. But before the onset of the pandemic, the three ISBTs would witness a combined footfall of over 250,000 every day. At least 3,467 buses from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Chandigarh would ply through these ISBTs every day.
On Saturday, senior transport department officials said the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) gave the go-ahead to resume interstate buses to and from the national capital. “The transport department had sought a clarification from DDMA on whether buses from other states could arrive at ISBTs. DDMA has now clarified that there is no restriction by the Centre or the Delhi government on the movement of interstate buses and that such services can be resumed,” said a transport official.
Under the unlock 2.0 guidelines issued by the Central government on June 30, passengers can travel across state borders without travel passes. Under the Unlock 1.0 rules, interstate travel was allowed (since June 8), but it was subject to both states agreeing to the decision and passengers carrying travel passes. None of these requirements applies any longer. In Delhi, however, no interstate bus service has resumed until now.
The transport officials said the services are likely to resume from Monday or Tuesday, but they expressed concerns about neighbouring states. “So far, Rajasthan has shown an interest in resuming interstate services with 70 buses initially. More states have to come forward for us to operate the ISBTs fully. Some states are apprehensive about resuming services as of now because of the high number of Covid-19 cases in the national Capital. Delhi doesn’t own or operate any interstate bus service,” the transport official said.
Dheeraj Sahu, Uttar Pradesh’s transport commissioner and managing director of UPSRTC, said the state is not plying any buses outside UP as a precautionary measure. Before the pandemic struck, UP used to operate over 1,500 buses to and from Delhi’s ISBTs every day—the highest among all the other states.
“The UP government will decide when our interstate bus service will resume. Till then our interstate bus service shall remain suspended,” Sahu said.
Punjab state transport commissioner Dr Amarpal Singh said the state has resumed its interstate transport services. “But in Delhi’s case, we are still awaiting clarity. As far as we know, the Delhi government’s interstate bus services are shut. We will consider restarting our bus services to and from Delhi once we hear from them,” he said.
Singh added that whenever these services resume, passengers arriving in Punjab from Delhi will have to isolate themselves at home for 14 days if found asymptomatic while being screened upon arrival. Symptomatic passengers will be put in institutional quarantine.
For scores of office-goers, small-scale traders and the public in general—for whom travelling to Delhi over distances between 50 and 100 kilometres was a daily affair before the pandemic—the daily commute has turned into a nightmare.
Jagjit Tiwari (44) who is employed as a member of supporting staff in a private bank in Laxmi Nagar, said he now cycles over 40km daily (both ways) between his workplace and home in Morta area of UP.
“My salary is ₹14,000 per month, a majority of which goes towards the rent. Earlier, I would travel in UPSRTC buses, which would drop me at Anand Vihar. From there, I used to board a DTC bus. That is not an option now, and the only other available option is my cycle. I cannot afford cabs,” he said.
“Some days I feel so tired, I am forced to take leave. I hope the bus services resume soon. With people losing their jobs, I can’t even risk taking many leaves,” Tiwari said.
Jyotika Rathee (36), a data entry operator at a government agency in Kashmere Gate, was asked to start reporting to the office from July 1 after the Centre rolled out the Unlock 2.0 guidelines. A week since, Rathee, who lives in Sonepat in Haryana, still cannot come to work because interstate buses plying to and from Delhi remain suspended.
Government reports show the transport department is losing over ₹5 crore per month because the three ISBTs are shut. The main source of revenue used to be the stand fee charged against each bus entering the terminals.
Officials at Anand Vihar ISBT said that even though the terminals are shut, they are preparing for the time when services resume. “Thermal screening will be mandatory. But, it is yet to be decided whether the respective state transport authority staff will screen passengers or if ISBT staff will have to do it,” an official said.
“A standard operating procedure will have to be shared with all stakeholders. Clarity is also needed on how social distancing inside buses will be followed,” the official added.