‘Govt will continue to help RTCs through loans, aid’

Government will continue to help RTCs through loans, aid, says Karnataka Transport Minister Laxman Savadi

Public transport is not only an environment-friendly, safe and affordable service but also plays a major role in checking traffic snarls

As the second wave of Covid-19 halts revenue generation at the four road transport corporations (RTC), the state government faces the big challenge of ensuring payments to 1.11 lakh workers who recently went on strike demanding a hike in wages. On the other hand, the pandemic has made public transport the last choice of the commuter due to the fear of infection and ridership has fallen by more than 50 per cent. Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi tells DH’s Chiranjeevi Kulkarni about the government’s plans for the RTCs.

The four state road transport corporations suffered a loss of Rs 4,200 crore last year. The strike and the ongoing curfew will worsen the situation in the coming days. How does the government plan to help them?

Public transport is public service. We will continue to focus on reducing operational expenditure. After the curbs are lifted, the operations will be run based on demand. We have already started ‘Namma Cargo’ parcel service in the corporations to build an alternative revenue source.

Suitable measures will be taken to get a bank loan (for the corporations) if the revenue is unable to meet the operational expenditure as there are possibilities of the ridership going further down.

A major expenditure of the corporation goes towards salaries, for which they require Rs 325 crore per month. Considering their financial crisis, we will soon decide on the possibility of providing special aid.

During the previous lockdown, the state government had provided for the salaries of the 1.11 lakh employees of the four SRTCs. Will it continue to do so in the second wave? Are there plans for salary cuts?

During the first wave, the government extended a special assistance of Rs 2,100 crore to ensure road transport corporation workers would not suffer salary cuts or delays in payments. During the second wave, the transport services have come to a halt and that has hit the revenue of the corporations. However, there is no proposal to reduce salaries. A decision on further assistance from the government will be taken after reviewing the financial condition of the corporations.

The prevailing idea that KSRTC, BMTC, NWKRTC and NEKRTC have to be self-sufficient seems to have failed. It has become clear that the government needs to support them in a much bigger way to keep cities running and avoid growth of personal vehicles which not only cause traffic jams but make cities unsustainable…

DH Deciphers | The bus strike and the riddle called the 6th pay commission

Public transport is not only an environment-friendly, safe and affordable service but also plays a major role in checking traffic snarls. In rural areas, we are running operations despite losses because the focus is on service rather than profit. However, diesel prices, operational costs and employee salary expenditure have been going up every year. At the same time, the fares have not been reviewed for several years to meet that expenditure, pushing the corporations into economic hardship. The government has helped them during the lockdown and is allocating funds every year for purchase of buses. We will continue such programmes to further encourage public transport.

What is the government’s plan to take employees into confidence and avoid another strike?

We have already fulfilled eight of the nine demands made by the employees. Our response shows that we are committed to ensuring the welfare of the employees. Fulfilling the ninth demand (for salary on par with 6th Pay Commission recommendations) at this juncture seems unrealistic. A decision will be taken after considering the government’s financial condition. It is important to note that even before the end of the strike, many workers returned to work, heeding our appeals. I am confident that they will not resort to strike again, in the middle of a crisis.

Covid-19 has made public transport a risky option across the world. Within Karnataka, we have seen a huge drop in the ridership of RTCs. How will the government assure the public about the safety of buses in the coming days?

Steps will be taken to sanitise buses, make masks mandatory and ensure social distancing. The corporations will follow the directions issued by the government. Measures will be taken to ensure that all employees of the corporation are vaccinated, and efforts will be made to spread awareness to expel unnecessary fear.

There was speculation that the government will partially privatise transport in order to avoid the heavy burden on the exchequer. Is that one of the options being considered by the department?

The government neither has a proposal for privatisation nor has such an intention.

The private bus operators have sought a liberal permit regime. They have sought a new system whereby they are allowed to run 50% of the buses. What’s the department’s view?

As per the notification dated March 7, 2019, all routes in the state have been nationalised save the ones where private operators already have permits. We have extended help to private players through tax exemption and relaxation during the first and second wave of Covid-19. Even recently, the deadline for tax payment was extended from April 15 to May 31. We have been responding to them positively.