21 February 2023
With the Invest Punjab Summit around the corner, Punjab Motor Union (PMU) a union of private bus operators who ply nearly 2000 buses in Punjab under the ‘Ordinary Buses’ category, has urged Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to bail them out from the economic crisis they are facing. The mounting losses being faced by the bus operators was flagged by senior members of PMU’s empowered sub-committee tasked with raising issues of industry with the state government. The PMU members said that losses were the result of free ladies’ travel, tax burden per kilometre and nil or negligible bus fare hike over the past few years. The private bus operators are reeling under huge losses which in turn is threatening the livelihood of around 1.25 lakh families, dependent on the industry.
“Punjab government is keen to attract investments via the Invest Punjab Summit on February 23-24, but before calling for new investments there is a need to focus on domestic investors, particularly Punjab’s indigenous private passenger bus industry,” said PMU Secretary R S Bajwa while addressing a press meet here.
The PMU members said that the previous government took a decision of free ladies’ travel which has ruined the transport industry. Bajwa said, “When Capt Amarinder was CM, he decided to have a free travel facility for women in both Punjab Roadways and PRTC buses. As a result, almost 40 per cent of our passengers -mainly women, shifted to Punjab Roadways and PRTC buses, leaving us in the lurch.”
“The ex CM had promised to reduce our tax burden to offset the impact of the free travel facility for ladies but this wasn’t done. Now the present government led by CM Bhagwant Mann must revisit the decision and announce a suitable compensation for us,” added Bajwa.
Shubhkarman Brar, Member, Empowered Sub-Committee said, said, “The tax burden per kilo-metre on private operators was Rs 2.69, to make things worse a 10 percent social security cess has also been levied on this. The result is that the tax burden per km now stands at Rs. 2.96. In another harsh measure a 90 paise per litre cess on diesel has also been imposed a few days ago.”
“Our demand is that the tax burden per kilometre be reduced to just 1 rupee if our industry is to be saved,” added Brar.
Sandeep Sharma, a Member of the Empowered Sub-Committee said, “Apart from tax reduction the bus fare should also be hiked by 3 percent per year in keeping with a Punjab government notification of 2013. Cost of diesel – which is priced more in Punjab vis a vis other states, had gone up manifold but increase in fare has been negligible or even nil. Since the last three years no bus fare increase has been effected.”
PMU members also called on CM Punjab to increase first stage ticket price to Rs. 20 from the present Rs. 10. First stage ticket price is the minimum base price of a bus ticket.
Ajit Singh Khatra, an empowered committee member said, “According to an estimate about 30 operators have already downed shutters.”
“We want the state government to give us exemption of 8 days every month from taxes against the existing norm of 4 days, when our buses are undergoing down time due to maintenance work,” added Khatra.
“Despite subsidy support to PRTC and Punjab Roadways these are still in shambles and it has become a challenge for these to even pay salaries of employees. The state government in fact should extend the benefit of subsidy to resurrect the private bus operators,” said Iqbal Singh a member of empowered sub-committee.
The workshops which make bodies of the buses in Bhadaur near Barnala are not getting any fresh orders and are also feeling threatened.
The PMU has already given many representations to key government officials and has now made a fervent appeal to the CM to provide a meeting time to the union’s delegation. In case their demands are not met they will adopt a route of agitation.