Karnataka’s “Shakti” scheme is allowing women to travel free and with freedom - Hindustan Times
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Karnataka’s “Shakti” scheme is allowing women to travel free and with freedom

Jun 14, 2024 08:00 AM IST

Shakti was the first scheme to be rolled out by the state government; the scheme has been a runaway success.

On July 11, 2023, a photo of a 70-year-old woman bowing down in gratitude before entering a Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus went viral. The woman Ningavva Shiggadi, 70, who took a bus from Dharwad to Savadatti in Belagavi district for her grandson's housewarming ceremony had availed Karnataka Congress government's Shakti scheme.

The scheme gives free rides to women, who are domiciled in Karnataka, in all KSRTC's non-luxury and Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses by showing a government identity card. (PTI) PREMIUM
The scheme gives free rides to women, who are domiciled in Karnataka, in all KSRTC's non-luxury and Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses by showing a government identity card. (PTI)

The scheme gives free rides to women, who are domiciled in Karnataka, in all KSRTC's non-luxury and Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) buses by showing a government identity card.

"Prior to this, I had to take permission and money from my children to travel to other places. But now, with Shakti's free bus rides, I do not have to depend on them anymore. This has really made me happy,” Ningavva said with a smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

In April during the Lok Sabha polls campaign, chief minister Siddaramaiah was presented with a garland of free bus tickets by a first-year law student MA Jayashree in Arsikere taluk of Hassan district. While presenting the garland, Jayashree said: "Thanks to the Congress government's free travel initiative, which you implemented as chief minister, I have been able to pursue my law studies without any financial strain. Therefore, I kept all the free tickets and made this garland.''

The Shakti scheme

Shakti was the first scheme to be rolled out by the state government, one of the five guarantees it promised during the assembly elections in 2023; the scheme has been a runaway success.

The State Road Corporation’s four corporations — the Northwest Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC), the Kalyan Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (KKRTC), KSRTC and BMTC — have seen women commuters sign up in large numbers to get free rides.

Speaking to the media on Shakti completing one year, transport minister Ramalinga Reddy said women in Karnataka have availed themselves of 227 crore free rides amounting to a ticket value of approximately 5,500 crore. Siddaramaiah, who is also in charge of finance, has allocated a sum of 5,015 crore in the state budget for 2024-2025 as against 2,800 crore when the Congress government came to power last May.

Additional Chief Secretary (Finance) LK Atheeq said: ``It has shown results by ensuring freedom of mobility and the spin-offs have been contributions to the Goods and Service Tax (GST), to gender empowerment and increase in the workforce of women.''

Quoting a study done by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), a Bengaluru-based state government-run organisation, Atheeq said the contribution to GST Shakti was 5.15% from July 2023 to March 2024. The GST collected in the nine months touched 6.480.44 crore in March 2024 from 5,643.62 in July 2023.

A top destination for travelling women has been temples. The Dharmadhikari (hereditary administrator) of Dharmasthala temple and Rajya Sabha MP D Veerandra Heggade wrote a letter of appreciation to the CM, Atheeq said.

How the scheme benefited women

Manu Chowdhury, a 29-year-old lawyer, who also works with the Hakki-Pikki tribe (traditional hunters) said earlier she was using her two-wheeler to commute from Bannerghatta to her workplace. ``I am availing the Shakti scheme now as commuting on my two-wheeler was a herculean task with the traffic pile-ups. Travelling in a bus has also given me the flexibility to get down at any stop if there is a traffic jam and opt for another mode of transport,'' she added.

As an activist, Chowdhury said her work involved travelling across the state and the free rides in non-luxury buses have been a great help. ``If I had to use the BMTC buses prior to the launch of Shakti, I would have had to pay 70 for a pass per day. The fuel for my two-wheeler worked out to be 200 to 300 per day. I am saving 2,000 per month now as my travel expenditure has reduced,'' she said.

The FIP report also pointed out problems that the women travelling in buses were facing. It said over 75 % of women, who they spoke with, said the buses were crowded.

The report quoted women as saying that earlier men would vacate seats for them, but now they refuse and say that while they have paid for their tickets, the women are travelling for free. Many women complained that conductors were behaving rudely with them and that buses were often not stopping at designated stops.

The report said the scheme has resulted in savings for many women and the money was being channelled towards the purchase of clothes or books for their children. In addition, accessing medical facilities at a distance, for example, the nearest town or city, has become more affordable.

Prathiba R, president of the Karnataka Garment and Textile Workers' Union, said there are four lakh workers employed in various garments units, of which three lakh are women.

"The Shakti scheme is a 100% empowerment of women, as it has not only helped them to commute to work every day but also to visit their native places. For instance, those working in garment units on Tumakuru Road are from Chitradurga and visiting their native town used to cost nothing less than 2,000 earlier,'' she added.

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