Ahead of the 2017 Punjab Assembly polls, the SAD-BJP government in the state is literally going the extra mile to provide rural bus service, Pendu Bus Service as it is called, in thousands of villages across the state. A majority of these routes are likely to be uneconomical, inquiries by The Indian Express revealed. Sources say these routes have been finalised on the recommendations of Akali legislators and constituency in-charges.
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An official of the Transport department said, “Had these routes been economically viable, private players would have already tapped them. The routes in question are uneconomical since a majority of villagers have their own modes of transport like two-wheelers and four-wheelers.”
State Transport Commissioner Ashwani Kumar, who also doubles as Managing Director of PUNBUS, however, justified the move saying the government kept social objective and not profitability in mind while deciding to start the service. “We have to provide bus service to all the people, even if they live in remotest of the corners. Profitability is not the objective here.”
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Asked about routes finalised on the recommendations of Akali leaders, Kumar said, “District transport officers carried out surveys in the districts to find out the areas which require the bus service. In the process, they might have consulted local leaders also.”
Punjab State Bus Stand Management Company Limited (PUNBUS) has been tasked by the government to start the service which will initially roll out 50 buses, most likely in the first week of December. PUNBUS, an official said, will arrange for 80 buses which it has got financed from bank. Each bus would cost Rs 14 lakh. The 29-seater bus (including a seat for driver and conductor each), classified in mid- segment, would be PUNBUS’ first venture into the said segment.
A transport department official said that during the meetings on the proposed service, it was pointed out it was “uneconomical” to start the service. “But the Board of Directors gave their go-ahead for the service saying the government wanted buses to be run in the public interest and hence commercial viability was immaterial,” the official said.
The official said that after the proposal was mooted, the transport department approached the finance department seeking funds for the buses, but the latter declined the request and eventually PUNBUS was asked to make available 80 buses.
There is a plan to introduce a total of 161 buses on rural routes. With PUNBUS running 80 buses out of these, the remaining are to be run by PEPSU Road Transport Corporation.
As many as 286 routes have been finalised by the transport department to run these buses in rural areas in all the 22 districts of Punjab.