THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Inter State Bus Owners Association (ISBOA) throw rules for contract carriers to the winds, officials turn a blind eye, and it is the passengers who are virtually at the mercy of the operators. Transport minister A. K. Saseendran even complains that the officials refuse to take action against the erring operators. However, the operators on Monday launched a strike, alleging harassment by the motor vehicles department (MVD).
The reconciliatory talks Mr Saseendran had called at his office at secretariat on Monday evening failed as he maintained that the raid, 'Operation Night Riders' by the MVD officials, will continue.
Ever since Kallada Travels, one of the leading contract carrier operators, was embroiled in a major controversy where its staff brutally assaulted three of its passengers in April this year, MVD officials conducted raids. It was on April 24, the day after the assault was reported that the MVD kicked off 'Operation Night Riders' aimed at keeping a track on private buses that operated to and from Kerala as well as to monitor the functioning of various ticket booking agencies of these interstate buses. The squads of MVD were working round the clock to keep a tab on the interstate buses operations and also checked whether the booking offices of the transport agencies have the requisite licensing of agent for passenger ticketing (LAPT). On initiating raids, MVD realised that several booking offices did not hade LAPT where a stop memo was issued against them.
"Almost 60 vehicles across the State had faced the wrath of the MVD on the very first day of the Operation Night Riders itself," an MVD official told DC. "We had been receiving complaints that the luggage compartments of these buses have been carrying illegal loads."
Despite the MVD taking stern action against the erring bus operators, the staffs resorting to violence against the passengers continued unabated. It was only the other day a woman passenger belonging to Tamil Nadu faced sexual assault from the staff of an interstate bus operator at Thenhipalam, Kozhikode. But the bus owners association is peeved with the MVD for fleecing money from them. At the talks, the office-bearers demanded before Mr Saseendran that 'Operation Night Riders' be stopped immediately.
But the minister was in no mood to relent to the challenge posed by the bus owners. At the same time, he came out with a soft stand stating that the raids will be conducted without causing hardships to the bus owners and passengers alike. But this did not go down well with the striking bus owners.
"We can't agree to the raids being imposed on us as already we have been slapped with fines. We will continue with our indefinite strike," said Manoj Padikkal, president of Interstate Bus Owners Association.
The MVD had decided to seize the buses which are found on the wrong side of the law and those who have failed to pay the fine slapped on them. Every day, more than 300 buses are operating to Karnataka from Kerala. During the weekends and festive seasons, more buses are in operation. Now the dilemma before the transport department is how to operate more services when there is a dearth of adequate number of buses or rather a contract carriages. The officials got a rude jolt when none of the private carriages responded to the tender applications where they had sought 50 carriages to operate on a daily basis in the light of the bus owners association calling an indefinite strike. A KSRTC official told DC that efforts are on to launch another e-tender process.
The LDF government is yet to reach an understanding with the Karnataka Road Transport Corporation who has adequate number of buses to operate. A section of the media had reported that the state transport officials had not given a favourable reply when the Karnataka RTC had sought permission to operate more buses to Kerala. The two states had entered in to an agreement a few years ago that more buses would be operated during festive seasons.
It is not only the Kerala-Karnataka sector which sees maximum number of passengers travelling every day. Kerala-Salem and Kerala-Chennai are the other two busy sectors which the transport department should tap on.
"Private interstate buses are not adequate in weekends. KSRTC should operate more buses and tap the revenue resources. Now if the strike continues unabated, I will be forced to take a flight to Kochi where the ticket rates will be high at the last moment. The government should do something to end the stalemate", said Arun Sripadam, an animator entrepreneur based in Bengaluru....