Any given day, hundreds of state-run buses can be seen lined up in and around Salt Lake stadium here. Over the past few weeks, the Trinamool Congress administration brought a number of these buses, and their drivers and conductors, from other districts to plug the transport deficit in the capital city. But now that private bus services here are back to normal, these people are desperate to go home.
The government requisitioned 200 buses from the South Bengal State Transport Corporation (SBSTC) and 120 from the North Bengal State Transport Corporation (NBSTC). About 260 drivers and conductors from areas such as Alipurduar, Siliguri, Bankura, and Birbhum have been put up in the stadium dormitories.
With two SBSTC employees recently contracting Covid-19, these transport employees are also petrified of coming down with the disease.
“Now the situation is that every moment we are going through tremendous trauma. We are also afraid as Kolkata has the highest tally of coronavirus. So, without Covid-19 testing we cannot return home for safety reasons,” said one of the transport workers.
The conductors and drivers also complained of poor quality of food, and said they were also being hindered by their lack of knowledge about Kolkata’s roads, lanes, and bylanes. They claimed they were not provided any information about the routes.
“In my life I have come to Kolkata hardly five or six times. It is an almost impossible task that one fine morning you are given the steering to drive a bus on a regular route. We are managing this with many complications,” said one of the drivers.
Around 8 pm on Wednesday night, three government officials were surrounded by the bus workers.
The protesters demanded Covid-19 tests for all of them, and proper food. The officials were rescued by the police after more than four-and-half hours.
A senior SBSTC official said, “It is a very unscientific process to ply district buses in Kolkata. But to meet the shortage of private buses, the government was compelled to do so. It is also not economically viable for the government. Now, the government has not increased the ticket fare of buses, and the vehicles are also maintaining social-distancing norms. So, these buses are facing huge losses.”
A senior transport department official said profits and losses should not be calculated during a time of such crisis. “It can be thought of later. The government now has the most important task of providing sufficient transport and is not looking at profits.”
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