The Himachal Pradesh government has cleared the way for a steep hike in bus fares, with the minimum rate up by a 100%, and a 20% to 24% increase of the previous fare for distances beyond the minimum rate.
According to a decision taken by the State Cabinet in its meeting on Monday, the minimum bus fares have now increased from Rs. 3-6 and the maximum distance for this is 3 km. The government has fixed the fare of Rs. 1.75 per km beyond this.
Reacting to the decision, the Shimla Citizens' House protested against the increase in bus fares. According to them, the government has increased bus fares by 20 -24% under pressure from private bus operators. The Assembly has clearly stated that if the government does not immediately withdraw the bus fare hike, it will fight against the government by coming out on the streets.
Health Minister Vipin Parmar, while addressing the media, said that the common bus fare has been increased from 90 paise/km to Rs. 1.12/km which is an increase of 24.47%. Whereas, in the hilly areas, from Rs.1.45/km, it has been sanctioned to Rs. 1.75/km which sits at an increase of 20.68%. He said that keeping in view the buses running in the private sector and the public sector, the fare has been increased only partially.
Increased Burden on People
Because of the hike in fares, most of the people of Himachal Pradesh have been facing problems. Owing to its geographical situation, there is no other mode of transportation except for buses for the general public. The other options include taxis or private vehicles which are quite expensive, and after the increase in the price of diesel and petrol, most middle class people were shifting to public transport. However, the bus fare hike has proved to be a disappointing decision for them.
According to locals, the budget of those travelling in buses will be hit after being already burdened with the heavy hike in the cost of petrol, diesel and gas cylinders. The maximum effect of the increase in bus fares will be on students, employees and other professionals who have to travel one to two kilometres daily.
Vijendra Mehra, President of the Nagrik Sabha, said that they will mobilise the public against this hike and protest on the streets, as this fare hike will add a huge financial burden on the public.
He also dismissed the government’s claim that the geographical situation of Himachal was bad and that is why the fares have been increased. He said that this fare hike has been done by taking Uttarakhand as the base, whereas the reality is that the geographical location of Uttarakhand is worse than that of Himachal. Due to the poor geographical situation in the hill areas of Uttarakhand, only 28 to 32-seater buses function, whereas 42 to 52-seater buses run even in the remote areas of Himachal Pradesh. Despite this, the minimum fare in Uttarakhand is only termRs. 5.
He also termed the state government as “anti-people” and in Himachal, despite the high average rate of vehicles, the minimum fare is Rs. 6 and for a longer route, Rs. 1.75/km, which is much higher than in Uttarakhand and other mountainous areas.
Move to Benefit Private Transporters?
It is also important to note that Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) will incur huge losses instead of benefits because of this fare increase. According to locals, usually private bus operators charge less than HRTC and increase their business. With the implementation of this decision, the income of Rs. 2.5 crore per day of the HRTC is expected to fall further. Therefore, in view of the proposal of increase in bus fares to the State Government and HRTC, the Civil Rights Forum should give 25% discount on the fare for all citizens on the basis of green card, so that private buses can be fought and cheaper means to travel is also available to the public, Mehra said.
He further said that with this increase, people have the option of travelling for the minimum journey, which will weaken the already weak HRTC. He further says that the HRTC will suffer from this as only HRTC provides its services in remote areas, whereas private buses run where there is profit.
Shimla city’s former Mayor, Sanjay Chauhan said, “After the increase in the fares, the number of private vehicles will increase on the road and it is clear that the level of pollution will increase which is not suitable for a sensitive area like Himachal. This verdict has been made only for the benefit of private transporters. The fare was also increased in 2013, when the private operators had gone on strike.”
Chauhan said HRTC was being destroyed due to the wrong policies of the BJP government and the number of its buses had been reduced to 3200, whereas the number of private buses had increased to 4,000. With this increase in fair, government transport, which is already in very poor condition, will be wasted and the dominance of the private buses will increase.
CPI(M) legislator Rakesh Singha questioned the government's motive and said, “If there was no fault in the mind of the government, why not openly discuss the proposal in the monsoon session of the Assembly just a few days ago? The government there had only raised the fee on the bus passes of the students, which was rolled back later. But after a few days, the government increased the fare in a closed room without discussing it with anyone which is absolutely wrong and our party will oppose this from the State assembly to the roads.”
CPI(M) has released a press statement stating that if the government does not roll back the fare hike, it will launch protests across the state from October 1.