Speakerphone politics: When Manpreet Badal rang up PRTC MD for interests of mini-bus operators
In the call to PRTC MD Manjit Singh Narang, Manpreet said the corporation’s general manager at the Bathinda bus stand, Surinder Singh, was “playing a negative role” and that the mini-bus operators were being “harassed”.punjab Updated: Sep 22, 2017 09:34 IST
Even as staff of state-run bus firms are protesting against an alleged mafia of the private mini-bus operators in the Bathinda region, finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal has been captured on video calling up the managing director of Pepsu Road Transport Corporation to underline these operators’ “concerns”.
The call on Monday — made on speakerphone at a gathering where a number of mini-bus operators were present — came a week after the police booked a private bus operator for thrashing a bus driver of the PRTC at Rampura Phul near here. The video was shared by sources with HT. In the call to PRTC MD Manjit Singh Narang, Manpreet said the corporation’s general manager at the Bathinda bus stand, Surinder Singh, was “playing a negative role” and that the mini-bus operators were being “harassed”.
“The PRTC union keeps beating up the conductors (of the private operators),” Manpreet said. “Wherever there is a permit, allow them to ply their buses,” he added.
It must be underlined that the PRTC had — after an HT report last month — detected and taken off the roads 40 mini-buses plying illegally, and subsequently entered the local routes, within 25-km radius of the city, with its fleet of 20 buses. This had led to a doubling of revenue in its earnings on the Bhucho and Goniana routes.
PRTC staff told HT, on the condition of anonymity, that they still face problems in plying state-run buses on the Bathinda-Sangat route due to skirmishes with private operators.
As Manpreet batted for the operators in the meeting caught on video, also seen in one of the key private operators, Avtar Singh, who assured the finance minister that all the bus operators present in the meeting were “with the Congress and not with the Akali Dal”.
Manpreet in the call refused to touch the issue of timetable of buses, as per which the PRTC officials have been trying to fix equal durations of taking passengers at the bus stand.
Last week, the local PRTC officials also regulated plying of mini-buses on the Sangat route by taking off over a dozen illegally-plying buses. PRTC staff told HT, on the condition of anonymity, that they still face problems in plying state-run buses on the Bathinda-Sangat route due to skirmishes with private operators over timings becoming a routine affair.
When HT sought to contact the finance minister over the video, he was not accessible despite repeated calls and messages sent to him through his staff for two days.
Police inaction in PRTC driver thrashing
It is worth a mention here that, on Thursday last, the Rampura Phul police lodged an FIR against a private bus operator and his two staffers for thrashing a PRTC bus driver while on duty near the bus stand. Till date, no action has been taken as the local cops insisted they were “preoccupied with VIP duties”. Bathinda SSP Navin Singla’s personal intervention had led to the registration of the said FIR after PRTC officials had written to him.
PRTC revenue on rise
Official figures reveal that PRTC losses in the Bathinda circle were reduced from Rs 9.66 lakh in January 2017 to Rs 1.8 lakh in August, primarily after streamlining of three local routes in the around 25-km radius where earlier only private buses plied. “There are 899 route permits in the Bathinda zone, most of which lapsed, and all these routes needed to be regulated,” said the PRTC general manager, Surinder Singh.
HT had reported that 90 % of the mini-buses of private operators were plying illegally with no permits on the Goniana route. Of 93 trips daily on the route, 67 were unauthorised. On the Bhucho route, 32 of 37 mini-buses (87%) ply illegally.
‘Goonda tax’ kiosk remains
PRTC officials on September 14 had issued a notice to private mini-bus operators for the second time to remove a kiosk at the exit of the bus stand that illegally collects Rs 30-40 per bus per exit.
HT had reported that 90 % of the mini-buses of private operators were plying illegally with no permits on the Goniana route. Of 93 trips daily on the route, 67 were unauthorised.
The kiosk remains there despite intervention of the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) following a report in HT. The SDM, Sakshi Sahni, told HT on Thursday that she is no more the regional transport authority as the charge has been given to a PCS officer newly appointed here.
“We will seek police protection from the SDM to remove the kiosk after a third public notice,” the PRTC GM said.
The bus operators under the scanner for illegally plying buses also highlighted the issue of the kiosk in their meeting with the finance minister on Monday, claiming that the cabin was meant for “collection of funds for the mini-bus union”.
At this kiosk, each of the 100-odd mini buses using the bus stand deposit money to the henchmen deployed. The administration does not get a penny out of it, and the money is paid for the tacit assurance that these buses can ply on lucrative routes without acquiring any government permit, said officials who did not want to be named.