Private Bus Operators- Day time robbery and corruption system
As a commoner I need to travel by private bus many times. While boarding on such buses many times I never had any idea that I am supporting some huge scam of corrupt practice. During my college days when I used to travel by the private travel bus, a lot of times I had to sit on a small plastic stool kept in the aisle. There were times when I traveled through out the night by sitting in a driver’s cabin and yet on all such occasions I had been charged full ticket amount. I also have experienced the constantly fluctuating screens of the video in private travel buses and then lot of uneasiness and pain in my head and eyes. I have witnessed during such journey that women and girls used to feel lot of humiliation as the bus drivers used to halt the bus at such a place where women could not have any decent facility of toilet and bathrooms. On every such occasion I had retaliated on my level and expressed my concerns to the drivers and cleaners of the buses.
After becoming an advocate and when I started practicing on various socio-legal issues I could clearly see the elements of human rights violation involved in the whole business of the private travel buses. It was surprising for me to see that everyone traveling by the private buses was having some or the other issues and problem regarding the functioning and operation of the private travels but because the passengers were a unorganized lot their voice was not reaching out to the government authority.
We decided to take up the issue as an important socio-legal problem. So we made an appeal to people through various news papers and electronic news channels to share their experiences of traveling by private bus. There was an overwhelming response from all parts of Maharashtra. Our human rights protection office of Sahyog Trust started flooding with photo copies of exorbitant tickets, letters narrating the problems, photographs, emails etc. My socio-legal activist collogues in the office started getting 300 to 400 calls from various passengers who were having strong feeling that they are being robbed by the private travel bus operator owners. Our team of socio-legal lawyers at Pune, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Sangli, Jalgaon etc. places received hundreds of calls. Apart from calls there were some harassed passengers who came forward and deposited their tickets. The tickets and the travel fare written on it was self explanatory to show the evident corrupt practice and violation of rights of a group of people who are unorganized. So Sahyog Trust decided to approach this Hon’ble Court in the interest of social justice. Then with full preparation and documentation we approached the Bombay High Court in 2011. We have raised various important issues and problems related to basic rights of common people.
Taking the undue advantage of the festive and vacation seasons the private bus operators hike the ticket fare exorbitantly. This is a kind of practice to rip off the common people of their hard earned money by taking disadvantage of the fact that they want to travel home. What surprises me is the tacit agreement of the government in such loot by not taking a proactive step to stop such practices.
During Diwali, Saturday- Sunday and other festivals the private bus operators on Mumbai-Kolhapur, Pune-Nagpur, Pune-Aurangabad, Pune-Nanded, Pune-Kolhapur and Pune-Latur and Jalgaon, Pune-Belgaum, Mumbai-Kudal or Ratnagiri including on all other routes etc. and also on the routes to some cities of neighbouring States like A.P., Karnataka, M.P. Goa, Gujarat etc increase the ticket prices two-fold to five-fold. As there is no restriction and regulations by the government about the fare, the bus operators increase the ticket rates exorbitantly during such periods. There are thousands of students and employees and their families belonging to Vidharbha, Marathwada, Konkan, Khandesh and places like Sangali and Kolhapur of Western Maharashtra, Cities like Belgaum from Karnataka region who are residing in Mumbai, Pune, Sindhudurga, Aurangabad or Nagpur etc and who go back to their hometown during Diwali and other festivals.
The travel companies take disadvantage of the fact that people have no better option and hence can be exploited by hiking the bus fare and charge the passengers unreasonably. The passengers have been facing this problem for many years and the private travellers are robbing the passengers.
Many of the buses of the private travels are not comfortable for long distance travel as per the norms of R.T.O. department. The seats are broken and the air-conditioning is also not satisfactory. The video, which is provided in the bus, is many times defective, which causes strain on the eyes of the passengers and in some buses the video facility, is not even available. The fans and the lights, which are provided near the seats, are not functional. The engines are old and defective for the long run. As a common man it amazes me as to how they can get the passing done by the R.T.O in spite of so many anomaly. The bus operators do not have any fixed and scheduled pick up points. They pick up passengers from every possible place which is against the Law.
There can be many incidences of arbitrary and irresponsible behaviour by the private bus travel operators and we received various letters from tortured passengers. The arbitrariness of the private travels is because there is no check on them. This also leads to the passengers as consumers feeling deprived because they do not have any redressal mechanism.
The private bus operators many times ask the passengers to sit even in the driver’s cabin with taking all the possible risks and breaking all the Motor Vehicle Laws. They put small plastic stools in the aisle for the passengers to sit, which causes overcrowding and inconvenience. It is again very surprising that the R.TO. and the other government departments are taking no strict actions and leaving them scot-free. The bus operators do not accept responsibility for the passenger’s luggage. On many occasions the treatment given to the passengers by the bus staff is very rude.
The drivers on many of these buses are found not to be trained by the authorized training institutes. There are many such issues which show the clear deficiency in services and violation of individual rights.
That on this background it is also surprising that the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) is not bringing extra buses in sufficient numbers during the holiday seasons. The MSRTC has introduced Volvo buses on the Mumbai- Pune, Pune-Sangli, Pune-Kolhapur, Pune-Aurangabad like limited routes only and getting good income. The corporation is intentionally not starting extra Volvo buses on all routes, because they wish to favor the private bus operators at the cost of the passengers who are unorganized.
There were specific directions from the Hon’ble Bombay High Court regarding the disabled friendly public transport vehicles. The government is implementing and following the order with the snail’s speed. These directions should be made compulsory to all the State run transport as well as to the private bus owners. For the responsible inclusive society every one should learn to respect the rights of every individual. The pick up points decided by the bus operators are to be decided with the approval of the City traffic Police and the encroachment department of the Municipal Corporation but the Bus Operators bribe the authorities and select the pick up points as per their own convenience.
The ticket rates are more while going than return from same place and vice-versa .It happens specially on Pune-Mumbai route which is dominated by the Neeta Volvo Buses and can also be seen on Nagpur- Pune, Nagpur- Aurangabad and such other types of routes as mentioned above, in the period of festivals during which everyone wants to go home or on Saturday and Sundays. Especially the fares of private travels plying between Mumbai and Pune increase their charges on the weekend because people travel on this route on weekends to spend time with their family. The private travels take disadvantage of the fact that there are more people travelling on weekends and hence there is a rush to get tickets.
The private travel owners are aware that the passengers are left with no option than to purchase the ticket from the private travels at the demanded rate.
Mostly the drivers of these buses stop at places where they get concession or free food and beverages. There is discrimination with regard to women passengers as no proper toilet facilities are provided to them. As a consequence the passengers suffer from headaches and fatigue on the next day. Also the fact that when a women passenger asks the driver or the cleaner to stop the bus for toilet it is not taken very seriously and many a times they are found not to stop the bus. This problem is directly related to health and hence must be given importance. It is not so difficult to have a toilet attached in a bus so as to make the journey more comfortable for the passenger. Most buses in different countries have this facility especially on long routes. The Bus operators arbitrarily decide the places where the buses stop for food and the passengers have no choice in the matter. Sometimes the food is of poor quality and on other occasions when the food is of better quality the prices are exorbitant. It is now very visible nexus of the bus private operators and the Dhabha or the hotel owner on the high ways or the long roots, which amounts to exploitation of the passengers.
I also feel that it is not a part of any rocket science to provide ‘toilets on board’ for the passengers traveling by various buses. The first luxury bus with toilet facility had started between Jaipur and Delhi long back in India. Agra too has a luxury bus with on board toilets. The Electra Magic – RV and Marine re-circulating toilets in the vehicles consume less water, and the waste can also be disposed of quite easily without spoiling the atmosphere.
In certain parts of Vidharbha and Marathwada, which are prone to Robberies, police escort is provided to the buses. The bus operators while availing of the facilities provided by the State Government and charging exorbitant fares from the passengers do not provide commensurate services to the passengers.
According to information received in 2005 there were around 56,000 private buses registered with the R.T.O. department of the State. Based on this information, considering that there are more than 60,000 Private Travel buses doing business at present by plying on the roads of Maharashtra under the banners of different private travel owners, it is a business of crores of rupees without any transparency and regulations. Generally, in one bus minimum 35 persons can be accommodated. That means roughly 25 lacs people are travelling by private travel buses everyday during the peak season. So it is a question and problem related to a huge number of public.
During a hearing in this PIL the Bombay High Court said the State Government must act against private luxury bus operators who hike fares during the peak season. A division bench of Justice D D Sinha and Justice V K Tahilramani was hearing a PIL remarked that if there is no government control over these buses then their operation must be illegal. Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC)’s advocate himself said that the private operators obtain permits for plying buses from one State to another, but run the vehicles on lucrative routes within the State, thus eating into MSRTC’s profit.
It is very clear provision under section 67 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 that the Government of Maharashtra is empowered for fixation of fares in respect of contract carriage. But in contradiction the State is mentioning everything in Court of Law. Otherwise the government would not have been taken efforts to quote the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 which has been abolished and a Notification No. MVA/3173/30303/XII-A dated 29/11/1973 which is based on the Old Repealed Motor Vehicles Act 1939. The other important aspect is the situations of the road in 1973 have been completely changed. In 1973 there were no private bus operators like today. The whole public transport was managed by the State Transport Services. The connectivity of each city and villages was not same like today in 1973. The broad roads, express highways, malls and food-joints on the road sides, medical facilities on the highways these all things came up with the development in the recent times and there was complete absence of all these facilities and infrastructures in 1973 when the so-called circular was issued by the Government.
So this circular is not applicable to the present situation. Why the Government Authorities are putting in so-many efforts and advocating for the private bus operators has become riddle to solve. The State has taken clear stand in favour of the private bus operators while mentioning that ‘there are various types of contract carriage busses such as ordinary, luxury, semi-luxury, air-conditioned and sleeper coaches of different sitting capacity. If uniform fares are fixed for such busses, it would not be acceptable to the transporters. Similarly, if higher fares are fixed for ordinary busses, the passengers would not accept it.’ It says further, in the event of fixation of low fares the private bus operators tend to refuse the passengers. Since, the passengers have the option of availing different standards of comforts, the principle of demand and supply would rule the market and accordingly the fares would be determined and charge on the basis of mutual agreement between holder of the contract carriage permit and the hirer. The Government also mentioned that ‘in all probabilities, if any fares are fixed by the Authority, it would be difficult that the same would be adhere to by the transporters and very purpose of fixation of fares may be defeated’. This is very frustrating as the implementing authority itself is saying that it will be difficult for implementation and hence don’t make any Law or Regulation. This came as a shock to us. Whether the Government and the concerned authorities do not want to consider the genuine problems and issues related to economic exploitations of the common people is the basic question.
The Government shall know very clearly that mentioning and talking about principle of ‘demand and supply’ is will not provide them opportunity for escaping from the responsibilities. Creating scope for private monopoly is surly an exploitation. Privatization if it is in any way for the welfare and development of common people can be welcomed.
There are regulatory authorities appointed to monitor various mass utility services. The Public Road Transport has become a mass utility service now. And the Respondent is demanding some regulation to be imposed on the private bus operators regarding charging fares from common people. The mass utility services like Electricity Supply, Telecom Services, Insurance Services, Education, Bank Facility and now the Domestic Gas Facility are all coming under some or the other regulatory authorities. Electricity, Telecom, Insurance, Bank all services are governed by its ‘Regulatory Authority’. The Authorities are regulating charges, fares, permission to utilize services etc. Then why in the same way of practice cannot be adopted to maintain transparency in the private bus operators also. In the larger public interest we are demanding to ask the Government to establish Regulatory Authority to monitor the private bus operators business and set an example of transparent governance.