October 13, 2021 9:19:52 am
In days after taking charge of transport department, first time minister and Congress MLA from Gidderbaha, Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, is regularly hittinmg headlines over crackdown on private bus operators, including companies linked to the Badal family, that have flouted norms. Raja Warring tells that “no one showed spine to impound buses run by Badals”, adding the he will not stop before transport mafia is wiped out from the state.
What is your blueprint for overhaul of Punjab’s transport department?
I am committed that all buses flouting norms would not be allowed to ply. There are tax-defaulter bus operators who have not paid taxes for the last four or five years. There are operators who for instance are running three buses on one permit. Such buses will not be allowed to ply at all. Another major issue has been of time-table. Some buses get ten minutes, others two minutes or one minute. It should be equal for all. There will be a level playing field for everybody. The department is in the process of implementing court order for cancellation of illegal extensions (over the single 24 km extension permitted), diversions, increase or decrease in trips and curtailments. For that hearings were conducted by the transport department and around 120 operators did not attend the hearings. Now, the State Transport Commissioner has to pass a speaking order and as per court orders, the operators would get seven days time during which the buses cannot be stopped.
This issue of illegal extensions and other irregularities has been hanging fire for long and you had been very vocal about transport mafia.Do you think you would be able to do much in about three months time before 2022 elections are announced?
A hundred percent! I will complete my task. I will fulfil the expectations people have from the transport minister and from the government. (Before I took over) no one dared to impound Orbit (the bus service run by Badal family owned company) in 15 years. I have not seen that Badals’ bus which had been impounded or even challaned. Similar had been the case with other big transporters. Now, daily seven to eight buses of Badals and their aides are being impounded for non-payment of taxes and violation of other norms. No one showed spine to impound their buses in previous ten years (rule of SAD-BJP government) and over four and half years of this government. Mafia will no longer operate. We will finish it. In next ten days, people will say this mafia has ended. We will make state’s transport department a profit making body.
You are adding new buses to the State Transport Undertakings (STUs) fleet. What is the progress on that?
We have given purchase order to Tata for 842 buses. Within a month, we will receive 542 chassis and by two months all the 842 buses will be seen running on roads. We are also going to float tender to outsource 1,250 drivers and conductors to have adequate manpower to ply new buses and restart the routes which had been closed.
Is there any plan to increase fleet of luxury buses too?
Not yet. We are already running more than 80 Volvo buses. 98 per cent of the passengers travel on ordinary buses only. So my focus is on that side (ordinary buses) first. New Volvo buses are not under consideration yet.
Outsourced and contractual employees working for the transport department have been protesting to demand regularisation. What about them?
They have had a talk with me after I took over. I think, their issue will get resolved. We have largely agreed to their demands. Those who are on contract basis are being regularised and those who were outsourced are being taken on contract basis. I have cleared the file and nod from the CM is awaited.
What would be the financial implications of this arrangement?
There are about 2,100 contractual employees. After regularisation each employee will get 20 per cent hike, resulting in increase of Rs 4,500 per month in salary. On the other hand, we will be saving Rs 17 to Rs 18 crore annually on GST by taking outsourced employees on contract basis.
The crackdown ordered by you against tax defaulters is being questioned. Operators say tax should be waived off or reduced as Covid restrictions hit their revenues. What is your take on this?
The government has to take a decision on this. Last year, the government had waived off the tax. Now, they are asking for similar waiver for this year also.
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