After the recent bus mishap which claimed 44 lives and left scores injured, police authorities have tightened the noose around traffic rules violators. Under pressure from the masses, the local authorities in Kullu have strictly ordered for busses (government and private alike) and other vehicles used for public transport, to not overload. According to local sources, if a single vehicle is seen carrying more people than the capacity permits, authorities are set to levy heavy fines.
However, students of Government Degree College, Kullu, blocked road at Sarvari in Kullu district on Monday evening in protest against the poor bus service. Similarly, there were reports from Banjar and Anni in Kullu district where students and locals are perturbed owing to the low frequency of buses. College students sat on a dharna on the road at Sarvari, which led to traffic jam on both sides. Similarly, protests broke out in Anni when school children and a few others were asked to deboard the bus after the seats were full and at some places, residents complained that busses did not stop at the bus stops.
Students complained that they have come from far-flung areas, but they had no means of transportation to go back. They said while to keep a check on overloading of buses was a right decision, there was also a need to provide more buses to the people. The protest went on till late evening where students were raising slogans against the government and local administration.
The residents of Banjar sub division have also demanded adequate bus service to Gada Gushaini and a few other local routes for their convenience. Due to shortage of buses in the area, they face difficulties in reaching their destination. School and college students, employees and farmers, who transport their crops to markets in the morning and return in the evening, are dependent on the bus service. Local residents said despite knowing that travel on the overloaded buses is risky, people have no option but to board the bus.
After the private bus mishap, people are so scared that they do not want private bus service in the area. They have urged the state government to provide Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses to facilitate travel for the locals.
Transport Minister Orders More Buses While 100s Of Buses Gather Dust
As a quick-heal measure, state’s Transport Minister Govind Singh Thakur has announced purchase of 200 new buses while hundreds of buses of the HRTC have been parked idle in the HRTC yards for the past two years.
Thakur announced in Shimla on Saturday that HRTC would buy 200 new buses to curb overloading. He said the state government would also introduce many other reforms in the transport sector to check the rising accidents. However, the minister has not disclosed what will be the fate of nearly a 100 low-floor buses.
When the fate of these buses was questioned last year in August, the Minister had said that all low-floor buses will be plying on the roads within 20 days. However, even after the expiry of 11 months, most of such buses are gathering dust in the yards. These buses were received by the HRTC in 2016-17 during the previous government’s regime under a Centrally sponsored programme for the far-flung areas where the transport services were negligible.
Thakur has said that out of the 200 buses received under the Jawaharlal Nehru Mission (JLN Mission), 99 buses were wrongly procured by the previous government as they are 12 mt. long buses, which makes them unfit for operation in the state’s terrain. Other than that, he also admitted that HRTC is short of drivers, but his government is taking steps to recruit more staff and vacancies would be filled in a month.
Despite the Minister’s remarks, several electronic buses procured by the previous Congress government with the aim of minimising pollution in Rohtang, costing nearly Rs 2.5 crores per bus, are also rotting in HRTC yards. Residents are questioning the Minister’s intention after his latest statement. A local government officer from Kullu told NewsClick, “There are already so many buses rusting away in the yards. Why isn’t the government running those? It’s okay that you want new buses, but they should also put to use the buses that we already have. First, he said, 20 days, now even after nearly a month, those buses are still in the yards. It seems that he has a problem with the buses because they were purchased by the previous government.”
Recruitment of Staff?
In NewsClick’s preliminary report of the accident, HRTC Karamchari Union’s President had said that on average, about 1.6 persons per bus are required and despite the Corporation’s claim of the staff ratio being 4.37, they are understaffed.
A senior officer of the HRTC was quoted by The Tribune as saying, “The corporation has to recruit drivers and conductors which is a lengthy process.” He admitted that if no steps were initiated, assets worth crores of rupees would go into the drains. He said in most depots, there was no space to park these buses, therefore, these had been parked in the fields.
Even though HRTC’s fleet covers 6.05 lakh km per day with a total staff of 8,813, no information is available about the frequency of the buses in the remote areas. Gada Gushaini road leading from Banjar covers eight panchayats of Mandi and Kullu districts. The people complained that the frequency of buses plying on this route is quite low. There is need to provide at least three buses with immediate effect in the evening time so that people can have hassle-free travel to their destination.
“Despite knowing that travel on the overloaded buses is risky, people have no option except to board the bus to reach their destination because they cannot afford taxi fare to reach at home. The government should provide separate bus service for students to suit school and college timings. If they are understaffed, they should take steps to initiate training of local youth. This will also generate employment and it’s a better solution than indulging in a lengthy recruitment process,” a local HRTC driver from Kullu told NewsClick.
Also read: Over 11,000 People Have Died in Road Accidents in Himachal in Past 10 Years