THE AWARD-WINNING Haryana Roadways came to a grinding halt 11 days ago when more than 19,000 employees launched a massive protest against the state government and stopped operating the fleet of 4,048 government buses. For its safest travel among public sector transport undertakings or corporations in North India, Haryana Roadways is considered the best. For the last 10 decades, the Union Ministry of Transport has awarded Haryana Roadways several times. The same Haryana Roadways has now set a record for the biggest and longest-ever agitation launched by its employees. Several rounds of talks between the protesters and the government have failed and the strike continues. On an average, nearly 12.5 lakh passengers travel by Haryana Roadways buses daily. The Indian Express explains what protesters are demanding and why the government stands helpless.
What is the deadlock?
The Haryana Cabinet has decided to hire 700 private buses to induct them in the existing fleet of Haryana Roadways by paying charges to the private players per kilometre basis. An estimated 32 lakh people use public transport in Haryana daily. The government’s argument is that they need more buses to provide better service to commuters. Since it cannot buy new buses due to financial constraints, government wants to hire buses. Agreements to hire 510 buses on per km basis have already been signed, while 190 were yet in process. Protesters, however, see it as the beginning of privatisation of Haryana Roadways and are thus resisting the government move.
What is the solution offered by the protesters?
Roadways employees want the government to buy more buses instead of hiring buses from private players. Employees have even offered 10 per cent of their salary to the government for the purchase. They add that the same amount can be reimbursed to them after they retire.
What is the government’s take on privatisation?
The state government has denied protesters’ allegations and claim that there is no attempt to privatise Roadways in Haryana. Government explains that the hired buses will also operate under Roadways’ control. Even the conductor on hired buses will be of Roadways. The routes and timings for the hired buses will also be controlled by Roadways. But, the protesters are smelling a rat in the hiring rates, too. They claim that the private buses are being hired at much higher rates to accommodate certain private players. Currently also, there are 1,000 permits given to private players who pay nominal tax to the government and operate buses on the given routes. Government has no interference in their operations. But now, the government wants to hire private buses that can be controlled by Roadways. “Formation of policies is under government purview, not employees’ unions. They [unions] may raise the issues pertaining to the welfare of employees,” says Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. “The process of hiring buses was undertaken in an utmost transparent manner but still we are ready to probe this aspect if anybody alleges foul play,” says Haryana Transport Minister Krishan Lal Panwar.
What is the financial condition of Haryana Roadways?
On an average, the Haryana Roadways earns Rs 28 per km against the expenditure of Rs 47. Every year, it is suffering an annual loss of Rs 678 crore. Officials say the loss is primarily due to free or concessional travel allowed to 40 categories. Students, senior citizens, sportspersons and policemen are major categories availing concessional travel. The Roadways estimates concessional travel’s annual cost at Rs 610 crore. Besides this, Rs 150-200 crore is deposited with the government as annual passenger tax. “If the government reimburses Rs 610 crore in lieu of free or concessional travel given by Roadways and the passenger tax is added, then it becomes a profitable venture for the government,” a senior officer told The Indian Express.
Comparison with neighbouring states
In northern states, it’s only Haryana where public transport services are looked after solely by a government department. In Punjab, the public transport sector is looked after by a government department as well as a corporation – PRTC. In Punjab, the share of public sector buses and private buses is in the ratio of 50:50. Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have private buses on permits or kilometre basis. In Haryana, the move was introduced in 1993 by the then Bhajan Lal government. It attracted stiff opposition not only from Roadways employees, but also other employee-unions. Initially, the permits were only given to operate buses in rural areas but private players started operating their buses on main routes also that caused immense losses to Haryana Roadways.
Crisis situation for the government
Roadways employees have extended their strike till October 29. Confrontation between protesters and government is likely to increase as Haryana’s Sarvkaramchari Sangh, an umbrella body of 102 unions, and Haryana Karamchari Mahasangh, comprising 42 employees unions, have already joined the agitation and even threatened to go on mass casual leave. Haryana’s attempts at seeking help from neighbouring states to ply more buses on the state’s routes have also been thwarted as Punjab Roadways employees unions came out in full support of Haryana Roadways and refused to enter Haryana.