Harish Sabharwal, General Secretary, DCBA (Delhi Contract Bus Association)
1.There is a great demand to expand the capacity of public transport buses and improve systems. Are you excited about this opportunity?
Of course there is good opportunity in the wake of renewed demand for expansion of the capacity for public transport systems that includes buses. It will definitely benefit the operators of Delhi.
But this revelation has come too little too late and I would say that there is total planning failure in the country.
I recall a Judgment of honorable Supreme Court in MC Mehta Vs Union of India case in 1998 it had directed the then Delhi Government for augmenting the bus fleet by 10,000 units. It’s 17 years now, the public transport system remained neglected by successive governments. In fact this is contempt of Court in a real sense. With change of governments and leadership, new incumbents make foreign study tours and try to experiment with their ideas back home. Delhi has become a guinea pig for experimentation of ideas without matching the infrastructure back home and public behavior. Our people’s economic condition, country’s economic condition and infrastructure are different from western countries and the solutions that are successful there cannot be successfully replicated here without matching so many other factors.
In foreign countries within 10km about 1000 people reside but here 10000 people live in 1km radius. In our Delhi high population coupled with policy myopia is the root cause of a systemic failure.
Today also the Government is not inclined to create a robust public transport system in a manner and seriousness that is warranted to tide over the present chaos. We, at our end, welcome any move to increase the bus fleet as it will fulfill the Supreme Court guidelines and will increase business for bus operators also.
2. What are the improvements we can expect from private bus operators?
My question to you is what kind of deficiencies do you find in our buses right now? We are working in a very smooth fashion in a law abiding manner. The improvements could be made with better services and technology.
As far services are concerned, we submit that the Government can rely on us. The private players’ participation must be encouraged by the Government to augment public transport system. For e.g. DTC is a corporation monitored by Delhi Government but it is not in profit for a single day in the last 5-6 years, but when private operators ply under DTC they reap profits even at the rates prescribed by the authorities because of efficient management.
That means there are efficiency, capability, and experience in private operators.
There is definitely scope for improvement. Technology has to be brought in by the Government; whichever technology the government chooses to introduce, our operators will abide by it.
We are the cheapest and best among all four metros. The rates in Chennai, Kolkatta and Mumbai are 1 ½ to 2 times more than that in Delhi.
If private operator services are being compared to that of blueline operators, then I would clarify and submit that it is not a correct comparison.
Under the blue-line scheme permits were issued in a faulty manner and people with no linkages to passenger transport system were given the permits. These agencies lacked even the most basic understanding and experience of bus operations. Permits were issued randomly without authenticating past experience and financial credentials of the candidates. The permits were given to inappropriate people with no transportation background and policy of contract (theka) system was adopted by the then Government which resulted in unhealthy competition and chaos on the roads.
The present kilometer scheme does not have unhealthy competition, as it is their drive and helper while the conductor will be of DTC and they will get per km rate only. So earlier schemes and this one is not at all comparable.
3. What are some of your needs that should be looked into?
Our biggest need today is that of parking. We have been paying for this parking for last nine years, about Rs.500 crore rupees has been shelled out by the operators till now but not an inch of parking has been made available to us by the Government till date.
I regret to submit that there is no mention of bus parking even in the new Master Plan of Delhi. The government must be questioned as to what it is they have been charging us for if they cannot provide parking to bus operators? If a person is charged an amount then it is against some services provided, but here no parking service is provided to us, then why bus operators in Delhi are being charged? Why does the government give examples of foreign countries, when it cannot provide much needed basic infrastructure.
For example in Australia, a permit is given along with the dedicated parking lot by the department and the vehicle has be in that parking during non-working period, if it’s parked elsewhere it gets challaned.
Without proper parking, it is very difficult to operate as there is random challaning and corrupt practices on account of parking on roads.
4. Taxes on buses are higher than on private vehicles. Could you explain how this is happening? Will this tax be brought down?
As far as Delhi is concerned, I do not think taxes on buses are on higher side. They are reasonable as compared to other states. At present CNG vehicle chassis, repairs and spares are more expensive than diesel ones, which is in fact discouraging. The Government should come forward with schemes for promoting CNG based vehicles, which the Government considers a clean fuel. This tax could be brought down through incentive on clean fuel based vehicles in terms of Excise Duty cut, VAT etc.
5. Do you think the odd-even number plate scheme will help improve Delhi’s air?
In my opinion, it is one more experiment. It can work but it depends on how the police will behave on the roads and how people will respond to the scheme. Ingenious people have already made double plates with odd and even numbers.
I feel that there is some sort of injustice to people as the Government has taken tax for 15 years from cars, but now the Government says that half of the time the vehicle will not be on the road, will the Government refund half the tax to the tax payer? Why this condition was not levied prior to taking tax? Why the curb not made when such vehicle were being sold?
Why does the government have a soft corner for the manufacturing lobby? The government provides impetus, tax benefits to roll out more and more vehicles on roads, but punishes the people who buy with punitive actions.
It may be questioned as to why the sale of electric cars are not encouraged in the city and in the country at large? Why is the Government not promoting research and development for clean fuel?
We will abide by the Government orders but it seems tough to implement. Contrarily, instead of rationing vehicles on roads, why not ration diesel and petrol? The people will drive only when on urgent and important work rather than for leisure. In my opinion before getting onto odd and even formulae the government should have gone for rationing of fuel in the state.
6. What are some of your proposals that would help to reduce pollution and make travel better for the people of Delhi?
- Fuel rationing as mentioned
- Clean fuel should be developed and promoted; even CNG which is considered a clean fuel by the government, is not so. It is a colourless fuel, more carcinogenic then diesel and petrol.
- One of the key issues to which the government is keeping its eyes shut is the rampant adulteration of diesel and petrol by the vendors. The petrol pumps owners have their tanks in operation for the last 50 years but these are seldom cleaned or rebuilt. The algae keep mingling in the fuel that is damaging to the vehicles.
- We are not even matching Euro IV standards for CNG, while the Government talks of bringing Euro IV diesel in the country, which is more a rhetoric and far from reality. It cannot give Euro IV diesel. The Government keeps backing out on purity of fuel and just passes the onus onto the operators.
There is a common practice of passing the buck and that’s what the Government is doing. Instead of putting the people of the country under trying circumstances the Hon’ble Supreme Court should pull up central and state governments for lack of infrastructure, improper planning, delivery of adulterated fuel in the country and zero effort on R&D for ‘actually’ coming up with a clean fuel.
7.Will the people of Delhi see improvement in passenger information services. Please give examples.
You must have read a study on internet that India tops the list of countries, which lead in adopting app based technology. We always welcome new technology, and our people adopt the same swiftly and with ease and that is indeed appreciable.
The passenger information system, if introduced, will be welcomed by our association members and they will cooperate and participate in it. It will definitely benefit the people and the service providers as well.