The Telangana government recently took a decision to give 4,000 bus routes for private parties.

news TSRTC Thursday, October 31, 2019 - 17:52

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is at loggerheads with the protesting TSRTC workers, is going ahead with his proposed plan of privatising the public transport system. According to reports, 4,000 bus routes would be given to private parties. While the unions have vowed to challenge this decision, they say that they need public support to reject this move as privatisation would deeply affect both the employees as well as the public. 

Thomas Reddy, from the TSRTC Joint Action Committee says, “We would never allow privatisation of the TSRTC. Chief Minister KCR himself in 2014 told us that TSRTC is the ‘wheel of development’. He said that railways are not very well connected in the state, and it is only TSRTC which connects every nook and corner of the state. Now he is going back on his word and making attempts to shut down the corporation.” Thomas observes that if some bus routes are given to private parties, the public would suffer. “Once private parties take over, they won’t run buses on time. They will run only when the bus gets fully occupied so that they don’t suffer losses. The fares also would go up and no one can regulate it,” he says.

The move to privatise bus services while the TSRTC workers continue their intense struggle, has sent jitters among the workers. 

How privatisation would affect TSRTC employees

P Ravindra Reddy, an TSRTC employee from Midhani depot laments that if the bus routes are privatised, many employees would suffer pay cuts. “If these 4,000 bus routes are privatised, the TSRTC workers on these routes would be accommodated elsewhere, and yet there would be employees left behind. In such a scenario, the Corporation would send these employees on unpaid leaves. Their livelihoods will be in jeopardy,” Ravindra points out.

Though the government is running around 10,000 buses, around 2,000 of these are hired buses from private parties.

Earlier this month, Chief Minister KCR had announced that the TSRTC would be trifurcated — 5,200 buses to be operated by TSRTC, 3,100 buses to be hired and operated by TSRTC, and 2,100 buses to be operated by private parties.

“We will never allow privatisation, no matter how small the number of buses would be allocated to them,” says G Venkatesh, TSRTC driver, and adds, “Today they (government) will say that 2,000 buses would be given to private parties, tomorrow they will say that the entire operation would be handed over to private parties. So there is a need to resist this.” 

Venkatesh notes that privatisation is detrimental to both the TSRTC employees as well as the public. “We want public support, we are not fighting for ourselves, we are fighting to save public transportation. If public transportation is privatised, why would they run in rural areas which are non-profitable? The school bus passes would be declared invalid, and even if they are valid, in order to make profits, students would not be allowed during peak hours. These issues are being faced in other states,” Venkatesh cautions.

Thomas Reddy adds that TSRTC should be seen as a public service. “Despite suffering losses, we run services on non-profitable routes, because we see it as a basic service like healthcare. That is the reason we want the TSRTC to be merged with the government. Public transportation should be saved at any cost.”

Though the 48,000-odd TSRTC workers have vowed to fight against privatisation, the Chief Minister recently in a press conference sent shock waves by stating that with just the stroke of a pen, he could bring in 7,000 private buses for public service and lay off all the employees.

However, this comes as good news for Khurshid Ali, president of the Hyderabad Secunderabad City Contract Carriage Association, which has lent 500 of their contact buses to the state government.

Ali is euphoric about his sector getting to operate within and between cities. He believes that the public would benefit from the privatisation as the private buses would stop on roads to pick up more passengers while the RTC buses do not. "If they (the KCR government) allows us to ply within the state, it would become our regular bread and butter, the taxes will be less, the buses that we operate on interstate services could be diverted within the state and that again would bring down our operational costs. We would be competing with the TSRTC.”

The association is of the view that they will have an edge over the RTC as their operation and maintenance costs are lower than that of the corporation. When asked if the private sector will be able to meet the demand, Ali says, "More buses also is not a problem, we can purchase any number of buses we want. The banks will give us loans as it's assumed that we would get returns from operating on routes won through a tender by the state.”

In the associations' talks so far with the state government officials, they have been assured that the ticket rates for private buses will not be set by the RTC. "It will be set by the state government but at par with the corporation. The RTC will become one of the operators like us, they can only set ticket prices for the hired buses that they will be operating, not on us," he adds.

The public concern about street-level competition and accountability of private buses according to Ali, will have to be registered with the RTA.

A former executive director with TSRTC is of the view that the privatisation move would aid the RTC to become more operationally efficient even though it would lead to an estimated loss of Rs 1000 crore, in turnover, annually. "These routes being privatised are a mix of profitable and unprofitable routes. Normally, the RTC loses money on the city routes and the cost of operation is more," says the former officer, who adds that improving efficiency of the RTC would lead to more streamlining of its human resources. “The privatisation of bus routes would also help the state government save money. They need not pay retirement benefits and other perks," he says. The former ED, however, warns that the privatisation, if not regulated would lead to monopoly of the bus routes by private bus owners who are close to the TRS government. He wonders if the RTA which is infamous for corruption should be tasked with issuing permits to the private bus owners.