Private Lobby in Puducherry
Puducherry, a Union Territory is a small thickly populated stretch in the coastal region of Tamilnadu. PRTC - Puducherry Road Transport Corporation, the State Run Transport Undertaking of Union Territory of Puducherry, has a fleet strength of little lesser than 100, and is probably the smallest State Transport Undertaking in India and one among the loss making State Transport Undertakings in India.
This small Corporation is up with hundreds of problem, both from internally and externally. If not for these problems caused from various sources internally and externally, they would have run in profits and would have a better reputation for themselves.
The major source of problem is considered to be the strong private operator lobby in the UT, which is also a major problem in the two densely populated South Indian states of Tamilnadu and Kerala. Some of the problems caused by them, not only to PRTC, but for Puducherry as a whole are given below.
About Private Operators in Puducherry
The private bus population in Puducherry is around 520, a majority of which are owned by MLAs and ex-MLAs in Puducherry. Apart from this, there are a few Tempos / Share Autos running in short distance routes where buses are not plying. The private buses, operate in almost all local routes of Puducherry and also connect the neighboring towns of Puducherry. They are the one who control the issuing of permits for any Government buses, in the routes where they dominate. They have caused a lot of problems to Puducherry and PRTC, which extends even to Central Government projects. Some of them are:
1. In the 1990s, Puducherry was connected by a 35 km long Meter Gauge track, with trains to Chennai, Tirupathi and Villupuram. Indian Railways decided to convert this to a Broad Gauge line and also decided to connect Cuddalore to Tindivanam via Puducherry. The DPR was also prepared for the same, and the distance was estimated to be 53 km. If, the trains were operated in this route, this would seriously affect the private buses operating in this route and ruin their business. The then CM of Puducherry, Mr. Janakiraman, who is considered to own the largest private bus fleet with him, even now, took efforts to deny the new track between Cuddalore and Tindivanam, by modifying the route to 153 km, in the DPR, that was submitted by the officials. He also, denied upgradation of the Puducherry – Villupuram MG section to BG. Finally, this small stretch was upgraded and electrified in 2004, in Mr. N.Rangaswamy’s tenure with Congress.
2. The Garibrath Train, running between Yeswantpur and Puducherry, which was announced as a tri-weekly train between Bangalore and Puducherry, is still running as a weekly train. This train was introduced with a view that, there are lot of people moving between the two destinations during the weekends and is poised to keep increasing. The private operators alone ply 80% of the buses in this route. The private operators alone ply around 50 buses between the two places during the weekends, including big-shots like KPN, SRS, Parbeen Travels etc. This strong private operators lobby have denied a tri-weekly Garibrath Express to Puducherry, which was also supposed to run on Sunday nights from Puducherry, is running on Saturday nights from Puducherry.
PRTCs Sorry State
The private operators denied a lot of things for PRTC. Some of them are given below:
There are lot of educational institutions, ranging from Government to Private Schools and Colleges, scattered in all places, cratering to the needs of lakhs of students, belonging to all the four districts of Puducherry. So, PRTC planned to operate Students Special buses, in Puducherry region, which craters specially to students, charging them Re 1for a single trip. The actual plan was that, PRTC will get buses for lease from private operators and then operate in its own name. This decision was taken because of lack of funds from PRTC to purchase enough buses. For that purpose, PRTC has even made the permits ready for around 69 buses to operate in Puducherry, connecting different villages in Puducherry UT. The strong private lobby, denied PRTC this act and did some illegal actions, so that the buses could be operated in their own name and the revenues from this will be going to the private operators. The buses operated by private people, actually does not follow several guidelines of RTO, for operating students buses.
PRTC, decided to ply 50 Non-AC Semi Low Floor buses and 10 AC Volvo Low Floor buses in Puducherry region, funded by Central Government, under JnNURM. All of these buses were supposed to run in new permits, in additional to the already operated local buses by PRTC. Again, here the strong private lobby came to influence and denied them 24 Non-AC Semi Low Floor buses and 10 AC Volvo buses, allowing them only 26 buses to be inaugurated on June 7th, 2010, which was almost 1 ½ years, later than they actually planned. Also, they were denied new permits and they were operated as a replacement to the already plying town buses in Puducherry. Of the 26 buses, 20 buses are running in old permits and 4 buses are operated as Ladies special, which used to run empty all the times. Recently only, they have placed orders for 14 Non-AC Semi Low Floor buses, which are to run in new permits, in new routes (unknown date of inauguration) and 10 Low Floor AC buses which will be most probably run in inter-city routes.
Some of the problems PRTC is facing internally and the effect of these are discussed below:
Most of the PRTC buses are more than 5 years old. They all have done a lot of kms than their actual lifetime. But still most of them are running in the roads with frequent irregularity. Though PRTC had sent a proposal to the Puducherry Government to replace all their buses, so that there can be atleast some regularity in the service, there is no response from the Government side. Puducherry Government is finding difficulty to sanction funds to PRTC to procure new buses. But, things are not over. This is the case with the buses in inter-city route.
In the case of local buses in Puducherry, around 4 services are not running everyday due to lack of drivers, who are specifically for running the local routes. While on one hand, there are drivers who wait for bus to be allocated to them for that day, return empty handed in the evening, there are buses which are not run due to lack of adequate drivers. Wow, what an organization. Some of the employees complaint on PRTC’s GM Kishore Kumar for all the problems caused, which otherwise PRTC would have run in profits.
The Fund Crunch
Some years ago, they were in really tough financial situation that, they didn’t even have funds to renew the permits of the already running buses. This came to the limelight when a PRTC bound to Puducherry from Bangalore met with an accident near Villupuram. This led to the cancellation of the AC Volvo bus that was plying between Puducherry and Bangalore, after Karnataka High Court ordered PRTC to stop the service. But, sources say that there is a proposal to re-run the bus. There were also some rumors that the service was stopped due to some bus repair and again another rumor that it was stopped as it was loss making.
The extreme case of lack of funds from PRTC and the Government side is that, they are yet to get a bus allocated for their Karaikal – Mahe (Volvo actually proposed) and Karaikal – Tirupathy. These routes were proposed and were to be inaugurated shortly after 2 Volvos were procured for Karaikal – Chennai and Puducherry – Bangalore services in 2007. This also makes them cancel some of the existing services (Karaikal – Tiruchi and one Karaikal - Chennai service). Also, the Kariakal – Chennai Volvo is also an irregular guy. The same holds true for PRTC not exploring new Inter-state routes. Some of the potential and must be operated routes for PRTC, which are not operated as of now are:
- · Puducherry – Coimbatore
- · Karaikal – Bangalore
- · Puducherry – Yanam
The Better Side
PRTC very recently replaced their buses in Puducherry- Mahe and Puducherry – Nagercoil route with a 38 seater Luxury Coach bus. Though they can’t procure buses at one go, they do have necessary funds for replacing buses slowly. Their initial plan is to replace all the overnight journey buses. The next priority is to replace the buses in Puducherry – Bangalore, Karaikal – Coimbatore and Puducherry – Kumuli routes, which are presently served by very old buses, apart from introducing buses in Karaikal – Mahe and Karaikal – Tirupathi routes.
After they have all the buses replaced, they are planning to introduce a website with Online Ticket Reservation System, so that they can have regularity in the services. The reason they didn’t do it till now was due to lack of adequate buses and spare buses. So, things are not over yet we are to see more of them.