Private bus operators have launched an indefinite strike from Friday after their demand to increase the ordinary fare from Rs 8 to Rs 10 was not met. The bus operators had also expressed displeasure at the government’s decision not to withdraw concessional fares that students are entitled to.
The decision to launch the strike was made after a meeting held on Thursday by the Joint Co-ordination Committee (JCC), which includes 12 bus owner associations representing all private bus services in Kerala.
The bus operators will hold a hunger strike in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram as part of the protest.
The Kerala government had announced on Wednesday that bus fares in the state would be hiked. The minimum fare was increased to Rs 8 for ordinary services and to Rs 11 for fast passenger services. The hike will come into effect from March 1.
However, private bus operators had asked for the fare to be increased to Rs 10 instead of Rs 8 for the ordinary services.
“We are facing a crisis due to the frequent rise in fuel prices and taxes. The fare hike announced by the government aims to bail out KSRTC. We will withdraw the strike only if the government fixes the minimum fare to Rs 10,” said Lawrence Baby, JCC president and secretary of the Kerala State Private Bus Operators’ Federation.
Bus operators are also worried that their plea to revise the concessional fares for students has fallen on deaf ears, as around 60% of their passengers are students.
“Around 60% of passengers in short-route services are school and college students. The rate was last revised in 2014. Since then, fuel prices and other expenses have increased manifold. We have been urging the government to revise the concession, but nothing happened,” said T Gopinath, general secretary of the All Kerala Bus Operators’ Organisation.
The government had convened the meeting for the price hike after private bus operators federations’ threatened to go on strike from Thursday to press for their demands.
KSRTC pensioners went on strike from November 2017 after their pensions stopped coming in. Fifteen pensioners reportedly committed suicide after the government stopped paying the pensions. The pensioners called off their strike on February 9 after the state government announced that it would clear all arrears as soon as possible. The government officials then added that the funds will be arranged by taking loans from district cooperative banks and primary cooperative banks.
The arrears the government owes in the form of pensions add up to a whopping Rs 224 crore.