Punjab Transport: Five years and a state crackdown that came to nothing
On December 25 last year, Punjab Transport Minister Amrinder Singh Raja Warring rushed to a private hotel in Amritsar to confront Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, who was in the state, about the Punjab state corporation bus ban. to commute to Delhi.
Warring’s rush to meet Delhi’s chief minister was as symbolic as it was urgent. This reflected how desperate he was to end the monopoly of the big influential private carriers in Punjab. Warring complained to Kejriwal that while buses run by a company owned by the Badals were allowed to Delhi International Airport, state-run buses from Punjab, which charged much less, were not allowed. . Kejriwal told Warring he would look into the matter.
Five years after forming state government, and just on the cusp of assembly elections in 2022, delivering on a pre-election promise he made in his 2017 manifesto – to end transport monopolization – remains far from the case for the Punjab Congress and has again emerged as one of the top issues in the polls.
Warring, who took over as transport minister in September last year after a cabinet reshuffle under new CM Charanjit Singh Channi, who replaced Captain Amarinder Singh at the helm, has made headlines for his crackdown buses running “illegally”, many of which are run by companies owned by the Badal family, and their close aide and Akali executive, Hardeep Singh Dimpy Dhillon.
Several buses from companies owned by Badals and Dhillon were seized during the crackdown and it was alleged they were driving around without depositing the special road tax. The SAD leaders immediately cried foul, alleging blood feud and moved the High Court of Punjab and Haryana arguing that no notice had been given to them, while saying the delay in filing the tax was due to the Covid pandemic and its impact on businesses. The High Court subsequently ordered the release of the buses. The Congress government in Punjab, and Warring in particular, have been left behind and pushed on their backs after the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s decision suspending the cancellation of the licenses of Orbit Aviation Private Limited, a company owned by the Badals.
Warring, however, can take comfort in the fact that it was during his tenure as transport minister that 680 illegal bus route license extensions were revoked. The extensions were canceled in accordance with Punjab and Haryana High Court orders dating back to 2012, which were later also upheld in 2018 and last year when the court ruled on the disputes in the matter.
Warring said the illegal extensions meant the buses were illegally operated for a lakh of miles. Under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 only one extension of 24 km is permitted in the original route permit. The provision has been flouted with impunity and dozens of private bus operators have successfully secured extensions, grossly altering the original route permit.
In 2012, after a private bus company sued the court against a provision of the 2011 transport scheme notified by the then government, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana ordered the cancellation of all route extensions to private bus operators, over the only 24 km extension permitted under the Motor Vehicles Act 1988.
The court struck down a provision of the transport (policy) scheme notified in December 2011 when the SAD-BJP alliance government, led by Akali’s boss and then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, was in power, which had authorized the extension of the exploitation of the existing permits to an unlimited extent.
The Badal family is a major player in the transport sector in Punjab with a massive fleet of buses. He has remained under the radar of the opposition for monopolizing the transport sector at the expense of the public treasury, a charge the Badals have always denied. Recently, the head of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC), Navjot Singh Sidhu in a press conference in November last year, was outspoken in questioning the monopoly stating that buses operated by Badals used “all lucrative routes and to the airport”.
Warring, however, says the crackdown under his command has set the cash register ringing again for Pepsu Road Transport Corporation (PRTC) and Punjab Roadways, with a surge in revenue after illegal extensions were cancelled. He is also proud that the crackdown has forced transporters to file unpaid taxes, which has resulted in the collection of revenue in crores of rupees.
Warring adds that the schedules had been “revised” after the illegal extensions were canceled.
“To end the monopoly, 2100 new bus permits have been issued. Permits were given to ordinary people and the unemployed,” Warring said, adding that Rs 400 crore had been earmarked and tenders had been launched for the construction of several new bus stands and the renovation of a number of existing stops.
He adds that out of the 842 buses that the Punjab Department of Transport plans to add to its fleet, 300 buses were already in place.