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In top gear

Today may or may not be Ganesh Kumar's last day as Minister, but the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), with him at the helm, has succeeded in effecting an image makeover.

IT MAY be a little early to look down the road, but the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), with the Transport Minister, K. B. Ganesh Kumar, at the helm, has managed an image makeover.

Gone are the days of rickety buses, filled beyond capacity, running behind schedule and often on strike. It's a different story today.

People started taking note of these changes only when Volvo buses were introduced on the Thiruvananthapuram-Palakkad-Thiruvananthapuram and Thiruvananthapuram-Kozhikode-Thiruvananthapuram routes.

Says the Minister, "The idea of introducing Volvo buses came to me when I saw similar buses being run by private operators -- that too, at a profit. I got to know that these buses were very comfortable and invariably occupied to the full. So, I decided to run a bus on a trial basis. After a run of 20 days, it was found to be a success and the `Garuda' service was born."

This service has gained acceptance and the number of passengers has shown only an upward climb.But there are two sides to a coin. These measures haven't gone down too well with a section of KSRTC employees. "We accept that change is inevitable and the introduction of Volvo buses deserves praise.But the timing was wrong. Sidelining the existing buses and giving more importance to the `Garuda' service -- thereby affecting job opportunities -- was hardly the right thing to do.The Minister should have waited for some more time," says a rebel union worker.

"The financially weaker sections constitute the majority of passengers of KSRTC, and they can never dream of travelling in a `Garuda'. Spending exorbitant amounts on buses that willbenefit only a small percentage is ridiculous," says another worker.

But KSRTC is taking the `Garuda' service quite seriously.Drivers were given special training in Bangalore and the conductors were trained locally. "We have a very good workforce, which, until now, lacked motivation. We now give them training from time to time, especially in conducting themselves," the Minister adds.Even doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists are invited to impart training to the workers. The KSRTC will soon introduce `low-board' buses. Their road-hugging footboards will help passengers climb in and out easily. It would prove to be a boon to aged

With two doors and a long body, these buses can carry almost twice the number of passengers other buses carry. "These will help in decreasing the number of vehicles on the road," says Ganesh Kumar.

Other developments include a computer mobile unit, modified from an old bus. The first of its kind in Kerala, it has now been rented out to IT-Mission, which is now using it to educate villagers.

How long can the new buses survive without falling prey to the wrath of strikers or anti-social elements?"I have requested the political parties to stay away from the buses and they have given their word. But rebels such as the `Ayyankali pada'can target these buses. That's what they did the other day in Alappuzha. We are chalking out plans to controlthem," the Minister says.

He claims he enjoys the support of all the KSRTC workers. "I've done a lot for them. We have built a number of beds for them, waiting sheds for women, and toilets in the depots. They don't have any reason to complain. And I hope they will always remain by my side."

Another project is the supply of packaged drinking water in long-distance buses.

Computerisation of the purchases of KSRTC is under way. Once completed, the transport corporation's major purchases, including that of spare parts, will be done through computers.

"The KSRTC is the only public enterprise in the country that has been completely computerised," he claims.

"The KSRTC's graph has shown a steady growth. The profit a couple of years ago was Rs. 1.48 lakh. It has now risen to Rs. 1.82 lakh. When the present Government took over, the losses borne by KSRTC amounted to Rs. 16 crore. But the deficit has now come down to Rs. 6 crores," the Minister said.

Not everyone is happy. Some of the staff complain they are not given promotions and do not get any financial benefits from the Government. They are dissatisfied even with their duty shifts.

"I have been working here for the past 28 years. Some days, when I come for work in the morning, I find my name not listed in the duty roster. So I go back home and don't get any money that day," says Padmanabhan.

And yet there are others who are positive about the changes and have welcomed them wholeheartedly.A passenger commented: "People used to run for the buses, but I guess now the buses run for the people... "


Graphics: C. R. Sasikumar

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