Incidents of stone-pelting have crippled night services and scared commuters away
Amid escalating losses caused by damage to property and fall in passenger revenue, bus operators, including trade unions of State Transport Undertakings (STUs), have sought adequate protection to maintain services in the northern districts that have been witnessing violence targeting buses.
Though bus services remain unaffected during the day, they are either withdrawn or pruned after dusk to small towns and villagers as a precautionary measure. In the last one week, a number of motorcycle-borne suspects indulging in pelting buses with stones were reported across the State.
In one such attack near Marakkanam a couple of days ago, a daily wage worker was killed when a big stone crashed through the windshield and hit him. However, private/State-owned buses to long distances are being operated as convoys with armed police escort.
“We are suffering heavy losses due to the damage caused to buses and fall in passenger revenue. Of the four buses torched, one was a brand new vehicle worth Rs. 20 lakh. Bus services have been hit in Dharmapuri, Salem, Cuddalore and Villuppuram districts. We are trying to maximise operations to avoid inconvenience to commuters,” State Transport Secretary Braj Kishore Prasad told The Hindu on Monday.
Besides the loss to bus operators, violence was forcing commuters to go for other modes of transport even if they were costlier. “We have established a control room to monitor operations round the clock. Buses in remote locations are being operated based on the advice of local police,” Mr. Prasad said.
Staff Transport Operators Association chairman Mohammed A. Afzal said at least 100 private buses transporting employees to private firms in and around Chennai were attacked in the last one week.
“Two buses parked on the city outskirts were torched. It has become unsafe to operate in the night…many companies have asked their employees to stay back in the office at night and go home the next morning,” he said.
Mr. Afzal, who is also the president of Tamil Nadu Omni Bus Operators Association, demanded stringent action against those involved in the attack on buses.
“We need more support from the State government to operate the buses safely. Those involved in the attack must be made to compensate the losses.”
Condemning the attack on buses and innocent crew/passengers, Tamil Nadu State Transport Employees Federation – CITU general secretary A.P. Anbazhagan demanded sufficient deployment of police personnel to ensure bus services.
Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation Staff Federation treasurer S. Sampath said the losses incurred by bus operators should be recovered from the perpetrators of the violence as ruled by the Supreme Court in a 2009 case. Buses had borne the brunt of riots over the years.
When STUs were operating buses at a loss of Rs. 7 per km, such incidents would further weaken their financial position, he said.