BMTC’s electric bus project stuck in quagmire

Olectra K6.LUXe electric bus at the inauguration of busworld India Bengaluru 8th edition of b2b organised by busworld at BIEC in Bengaluru on Wednesday 29th August. Photo by Janardhan B K

Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC)’s plan to lease electric buses, a matter that should have been decided within weeks at the board level, has reached the Chief Minister’s office. This follows allegations of corruption levelled by the Transport Minister.

Over an year after BMTC invited tenders for leasing electric buses, the project is stuck in a quagmire. Officials opted to lease the buses instead of buying them due to challenges posed by the new technology.

Bengaluru needs to replace diesel vehicles with electric ones if it wants to avoid Delhi-level pollution. But for BMTC, saddled with a cumulative loss of Rs 650 crore, the threat is existential as revenue generation has stagnated while operation costs continue to soar.

When a private company offered to provide electric buses at Rs 37.50 per km, officials saw a ray of hope. High fuel prices had led to an increase in the operational cost of diesel buses from Rs 45 to Rs 56 per km between January and September.

However, Transport Minister D C Thammanna remained unconvinced by the project’s potential benefits. Instead, he preferred buying the electric buses and even called for cancellation of the tender, which has already been awarded.

When BMTC sought written directions for the cancellation, the Minister accused the officials of “taking money from the private company (bus provider) and pressuring” him to clear the lease-model project.

“A decision on the project was taken during the previous Congress regime when H M Revanna was the Transport Minister. The project could have been cleared at the board level. But there was a change in government and officials chose to wait till appointment of a new transport minister (Thammanna),” sources in the government say.

Following the minister’s allegations, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy called a meeting to resolve the issues. BMTC officials made a presentation on the project while the Minister stated that leasing buses and providing depot space to the private operator will not help BMTC.

Chief Secretary T M Vijay Bhaskar was told to go through the documents and provide his opinion on the project. The Chief Minister will take a call on it soon after. Officials believe that the change in the government delayed the project by nearly six months.

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