The indefinite strike by the private bus owners in Kerala have entered fifth day.
When people run haywire on the middle of the road and break their backs to find conveyance irrespective of day and night, when the children find it difficult to turn up for exams including the model exams of the higher secondary sections, when colleges remain closed due to the strike, when the lives of the people come to a standstill, the government that should be taking necessary action is displaying indifference by turning a blind eye towards the happenings in the state. With the hike in the bus fares to come to effect on March 1, the people are perplexed as to how to move ahead by managing the vicissitudes in the family budget. It is on top of the hike in bus fare, that the bus operators have landed the common man in more trouble by calling for an indefinite strike. This anti-popular move have virtually brought those who make both ends meet by relying on almost 13, 000 private buses in the state, to the streets. The government who assumed power by pledging to make everything right, is displaying laxity in facing the crisis.
The issues the bus owners raised by citing justifications like fuel charges and hike in other prices were resolved by increasing the bus fare after accepting the report submitted by the committee appointed to study the problems of the bus owners. Given this situation, the government is asking who should call on a strike again and why. Not only the people but even the government does not seem to be convinced of the logic behind the strike. In that case, how to handle those who organize a strike which is inconceivable? The government does not have any idea even about that, as proven by the indifference of all these days. The talks held by Transport Minister A K Saseendran with the bus owners on Sunday failed. They will be meeting the Chief Minister on Tuesday only after which further details will be known. Though on Monday the authorities warned of cancelling the permits, one will have to wait and see how effective it would be. The people will anyhow have to continue facing hardships due to the strike.
Even the bus owners themselves are unsure as to why they have called on an indefinite strike. They began the bus strike stating that the fare hike was inadequate. The reason later cited was of not increasing the students’ concession rate. According to the reports, that was the reason why the talks held with the Transport Minister the other day failed. The bus owners now say that the strike was not for a fare hike but to get the recommendations in the report by Justice M Ramachandran Committee, approved. Justice M Ramachandran Committee has been appointed to study the issues faced by the transport industry. What are these recommendations? The bus fare revision panel headed by Justice Ramachandran, since 2010, sees the fare hike as the only solution to the issues. The Committee did not pay heed to any of the several alternative suggestions submitted by different popular panels to avoid placing the burden of fare hike on the people. The demand to put an end to the issues in regulating the fare stages has been raised since the time the hike in fares started.
Though the alternating governments pandered to the demands of the bus owners and increased the fare, the anomalies in determining the fare stages were ignored. Even now, in several regions buses are exacting thousands of rupees from people's pocket for distances they don't actually travel. The High Court had directed not to hike the charges without resolving the hitches in fare stage. The shortcut used by the Committee to make them comply with that order is to record that such an anomaly does not exist. The Committee submitted a report in which it glossed over a problem experienced first-hand by the people. Only trivial issues regarding the students’ concession rates are left unresolved in the report. The tactic of the bus owners is to put the government under pressure on such matters. But the Pinarayi Government maintains a blatant silence and indifference over the issue.
As fares keep increasing, private operators, as also KSRTC are in fact digging their own graves. For, the higher the fares go, the lower becomes the number of passengers opting for buses. The reason is that each hike drive the passengers away from using public transport and towards private vehicles. With another increase in fares from 1 March, the percentage of KSRTC and private buses is set to go down further. Thus, what should have been explored are concessions of relief such as reduction of vehicle tax, subsidy for spare parts that can enable the industry to overcome the difficulty. But the course preferred by the state government for any and every such issue, seems to be of passing the buck to, and imposing burden on the people by hiking tax or service charges. And now, as if the stress of higher fares were not enough, it has become double punishment, when on top the fare hike, an unjustifiable strike has also been thrust on the people. When the people are made to suffer through the meaningless strike reaching its fifth day, if nothing can be done against it, of what use and for whom is this government?