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Time for experts to govern BEST rather than politicians?

For years, the BEST was being run by the political nominees most of whom were clueless about how it should be governed

mumbai Updated: Nov 28, 2017 00:05 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
BEST,Ajoy Mehta,BEST buses
The BEST, which comes under administrative control of the BMC, sought funds from the latter.(HT File)

Mumbai civic chief Ajoy Mehta’s suggestion that the committee that governs the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) should be dissolved and an administrator should be appointed to run the troubled electricity and transport company has stirred the hornet’s nest.

Late last week, the BMC submitted a 10-page letter to the civic standing committee, which takes decisions on policy issues, pointing out that the BEST committee is not showing enough urgency to implement measures needed to pull the loss-making BEST out of its current financial mess.

The letter has details on the “financial indiscipline, monopolistic behaviour and problems of the transport body” to justify the proposal that the BEST committee should be dissolved. As expected, the politicians have expressed their unhappiness.

There is definitely a case for what Mehta has suggested. Over the years, the BEST was governed poorly. There was no reaction to the changes in the city, the need for commuters and changing nature of the public transport.

No measures were taken even as its ridership kept declining and losses mounted. The inefficiency in BEST’s governance was exposed after the electricity regulator prevented the BEST from using its profits from electricity supply division to offset the losses in transport division. In August, it reached a stage that it did not even have money to pay salaries to its staff.

The BEST, which comes under administrative control of the BMC, sought funds from the latter. The BMC put certain conditions insisting that the BEST adopt cost-cutting measures and improve its efficiency. Irked that the measures are not being taken immediately, the civic administration has now suggested that the decision making body of the BEST should be dissolved and an administrator should be appointed to handle the undertaking.

However, experts in the subject of public transport differ on the issue.

Instead of scrapping the committee, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and civic chief Mehta should restructure it and appoint experts on public transport, finance, electricity and technology on the same to handle the BEST.

“As per BEST constitution, there needs to be experts on the committee and councillors can also be members. Political parties have ignored the first and taken only the second part seriously,” says city-based transport expert Ashok Datar.

In fact, the current situation is a perfect opportunity to do so. The century-old BEST is serving on an average 27 lakh commuters with its fleet of 3,400 buses every day. It has the burden of cumulative losses of Rs1,759 crore. It definitely needs to be revived and modernised for the city.

For years, the BEST was being run by the political nominees most of whom were clueless about how it should be governed. Even now, there are 17 members on the committee and all are politicians nominated by political parties who have representation in the civic elected house.

BEST needs to be run professionally and efficiently. It needs to restructure its routes considering changing nature of commute and new modes of mass transport in the city. It needs to get smaller buses that would run faster on city’s congested roads.

It needs to procure smaller AC buses (strangely the BEST committee opposed this even though such buses of private ride-sharing companies get good response of the commuters). Basically, BEST needs fresh ideas. It needs to pick best practices and technology from transport bodies in mega cities across the world and customise the same for Mumbai.

The experts, however, insist that the civic administration should not stress on profitability of the BEST as the bus service should be promoted for decongesting roads. Increasing the ridership should be the focus and not the revenue, they say.

First Published: Nov 28, 2017 00:03 IST