Off the Track

While inadequate transport facilities in J&K cause hardship to general public, the official carrier has lent its newly acquired fleet of buses to various government institutions. Shams Irfan reports.

While the ordinary citizens continue to suffer due to lack of adequate public transport facilities in Jammu and Kashmir, a major portion of the newly acquired fleet of low floor buses has been let on contract with different government institutions.

In 2010, Government of India [GOI] under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission [JNNURM] gave Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation [JKSRTC] 150 new buses. But unlike other states, Jammu and Kashmir failed to induct these newly acquired NURM buses into its local transport fleet.

JNNURM, an ambition project launched by GOI in 2005 was meant primarily for city operations only as the objective was to provide urban populations with modern transport facilities. But in Jammu and Kashmir, the project failed to take off because of a court directive that bans big buses from plying inside the cities.

“If we are not allowed to ply inside cities then how we are supposed to compete with the private players and serve people,” said Mushtaq Chanda, Deputy General Manager, Tourist Services Division [TSD]. Out of the total 150 allotted buses, 90 buses are big [47-seater] and the rest 60 are small [18-seater]. Interestingly, the sub-division of buses within the state, which is often done on need or population basis, leaves Kashmir with just 20 big and 40 small buses while Jammu gets 45 big and 20 small buses.

According to information available with the office of General Manager Operations SRTC, out of 150 new low floor buses 65 buses are used by the Army. “We have a long term contract with the Army and we provide them with buses as and when required,” said Chanda.   

“Because of the official neglect the once flourishing and profit making corporation is now on the brink of extinction,” said a senior employee who wishes not to be named.  “State government has killed the corporation systematically. Once we used to have our offices all across India, now we are downgraded and deemed fit to serve the Secretariat employees, Army personnel or Yatris only,” he added.

“Despite being a public bus service it has become an official carrier. They do not care about public grievances anymore,” said Farooq Ahmad, a retired bus driver who has served the corporation for over two decades. “They [JKSRTC] have leased out almost entire new fleet to the Army. All they want is to earn profits,” he said.

“SRTC is earning good money from these contracts, so what is the harm in that,” said Chanda. “And we have not leased our entire fleet to the Army, they get buses as per demand. Today only 45 buses were used by the Army,” said Chanda after checking the duty register. When asked what happens to the remaining buses that are under the contract. Are they being used for the public transport in the meantime? “No they remain idle,” he replied.

“These new buses were supposed to be meant for urban transportation. But so far not even a single bus has been pressed into the service of the people,” said Mohammd Amin Waar, a regular passenger who travels in a private bus to Sempora near Pampore everyday to attend office. “So far we have not used any of the buses in Kashmir out of the 150 buses provided under this scheme,” said an official at State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC).  

The SRTC, which only a few decades back was the major carrier of passenger in the state, has over the years lost its sheen. Established in June 1948 with an aim to provide good and affordable transport facilities to the people of the state, it was formally converted into JKSRTC in September 1976.

The officials said that any new bus that is purchased or acquired by SRTC is first inducted in to Tourist Services Division [TSD], where it is used for a period of five years. After that these buses get downgraded and passed on to district fleet where they serve for another ten years. Finally these buses get further downgraded and are sent to schools for ferrying students and staff. “Our buses have a minimum life of around 20 years,” said an official at SRTC.

In 1988 SRTC used to ply 32 busses between Srinagar and Islamabad. Now only four buses operate between these two important destinations. “In order to operate properly we need separate space for our buses. Till our roads are ruled by private operators we cannot serve people the way we desire,” said Chanda.

Presently SRTC has a fleet of only 45 buses for inner-state operations out of which only 34 are operative and one bus plies between Srinagar and Leh on a daily basis.

“If we would have inducted all the JNNURM buses in our inner state fleet then the problem of transportation within the Kashmir valley might have reduced considerably,” confided an SRTC official who wished not to be named.

 

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