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Capt Amarinder's new transport policy cracks down on Badals' empire

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 6 April 2017, 19:22 IST

The newly elected Congress government in Punjab under Captain Amarinder Singh has come out with policy interventions that will hit the transport empire of the Badal family.

It is also taking to task those responsible for registration of false police cases against people in the last ten years of Akali rule.

Amarinder has decided to come out with a new transport policy that is expected to deal a blow to the monopoly of Badal family over Punjab's transport bus sector.

The Badal family, with former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir Badal, at the helm have stakes in a large number of transport companies that have monopolised the private transport business in the state.

The buses owned by companies where the Badals have stakes were in the news for all the wrong reasons and the pinnacle was when the Parliament was brought to a standstill after a teenaged girl was crushed by a bus owned by one of Sukhbir Badal's firms. The girl, along with her mother, was allegedly thrown off after being molested by the conductor, cleaner and one more person.

The buses have been involved in several instances of accidents due to rash driving, misbehaviour with the passengers and erratic functioning. The instances of private operators 'hijacking' passengers from government run buses has also been a common phenomenon. People have complained of these buses not paying toll tax at barriers and the staff manhandling commoners.

All this is expected to end with Amarinder announcing a series of sweeping reforms to streamline the transport system in Punjab, with a new draft transport policy expected to be announced within two weeks and several measures to unshackle the public transport system from its current monopolistic control.

“The purpose is to streamline the entire transport system. It is not targeted at anyone but to ensure that the system works for the public. If someone's enterprise gets affected by it, the government cannot be blamed,” said a government official.

A review meeting of the transport department, chaired by Amarinder, has suggested initiatives including restructuring of the 22 District Transport Offices and a more transparent system of permit allotment. The four Regional Transport Authority offices at Patiala, Jalandhar, Feorzepur and Bathinda will also be restructured to make them more seamless and hassle-free.

“While examining the existing permits and their legality, the new transport policy, to be drafted through statewide consultations among various stakeholders, will seek to create a level playing field for private players while facilitating unemployed youth,” said a government spokesperson. .

The new policy that is to be framed by May 15 as directed by the High Court will affect 750 private bus route permits, 1840 extensions beyond 24 km of original routes and 6700 mini bus permits.

Amarinder has directed the department officials to professionalise the registration as well as license issuance and renewal services, apart from making the motor vehicle authorities more accountable by bringing them under the ambit of the SDMs. In order to streamline the licensing system, Captain Amarinder asked the department to expedite Web based applications SAARTHI for driving licenses and VAAHAN for registration are set to become operational soon.

Under the proposed policy tariff and route rationalisation would also be undertaken on priority basis to ensure that the public transport system in the state becomes more systematic, seamless and affordable. The transport department has been directed to upgrade the buses to provide a comfortable travel option to the commuters.

The government is looking into the irrational practice of giving 'profitable' time slots and route permits to influential bus operators which would be replaced by a fair and rational system. It has been decided to review the tax structure put in place by the previous government where luxury coaches paid less tax as compared to the state transport buses. Sources say that a large number of buses owned by companies in which Badals have stakes have been leased out in neighbouring Rajasthan, which is ruled by Akali ally BJP.

Finance minister Manpreet Badal has suggested introduction of a fleet of integrated coaches of elite buses to be operated on premier inter-city roads to end the monopoly of private operators. He has also suggested installation of CCTV cameras in buses to enhance travel safety.

As promised in the Congress manifesto, the government has also decided to provide one lakh taxis, light commercial vehicles and other vehicles every year to the unemployed youth at subsidised rates. Under the `Apni Gaddi Apna Rozgar’ scheme, the government will stand guarantee and no collateral would be required for the loan, which the youth would need to repay in five years. The department will tie up with major taxi operators such as Ola, Uber etc for the implementation of the scheme.

False cases

Meanwhile, Amarinder has taken another step that is bound to have far reaching political ramifications. He has set up a Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Mehtab Singh Gill, to review the false cases and FIRs registered under the decade long Akali regime. The two-member Commission has former District and Sessions Judge B S Mehandiratta as member.

The Commission would 'inquire into the cases where persons are said to have been wrongly implicated in allegedly false cases and FIRs in Punjab during the last 10 years and submit its report to the government'. It would recommend measures to be adopted to ensure that such instances do not happen in future.

The registration of false cases was one of the burning issues during the poll campaign. Amarinder had received several complaints of false cases being registered against the Akalis' political opponents in connivance with police officials.

Meanwhile, the SAD has come out saying that it will not take lying down “the vendetta being unleashed by the ruling party” against its workers and any onslaught on Akali workers will be opposed tooth and nail. This is in apparent references to reports about Congress workers targeting Akalis in the villages.

Senior Akali leaders – general secretary Maheshinder Singh Grewal and secretary Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema – held a detailed meeting with a battery of lawyers in the party head office on Wednesday to chalk out a strategy to help aggrieved Akali workers.

According to Cheema, the SAD leadership has noted with concern that in a short span of two weeks of the Congress rule three SAD workers have been murdered and many others have been criminally assaulted.

“Apart from this several incidents have come to the notice of the party where duly elected bodies being managed by SAD leaders which have yet years to complete their term, are being threatened by the Congress leaders. They are working overtime to dislodge them by adopting all unfair means including the threats of registering false cases. This is an illegal, unwarranted and undemocratic act of the Congress leaders to demolish the democratic process,” added Grewal and Cheema.

The SAD leaders discussed the process of constitution of panel of lawyers at sub division, districts and state level to provide best possible legal aid to the suffering Akali workers.

Just five days after the poll results Sukhbir had asked Amarinder to direct the police department to curb incidents of political vendetta with a heavy hand immediately. The government had countered the charge saying that the Akali leadership was trying to mislead the people and the chief minister was on record as stating that his government would not indulge in vendetta politics.

First published: 6 April 2017, 18:39 IST