Special Correspondent

Scheme has been introduced in public interest, says High Court

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has vacated the interim stay on a June 2, 2005 Government Order, proposing to expand the number and area of private mini-bus operations.

Passing orders on a batch of writ petitions and appeals from mini-bus operators, workers unions and the Government, the First Bench of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice Prabha Sridevan said: "In our opinion, the modified scheme has been introduced in public interest and, in any case, the petitioners' challenge to the draft scheme is premature."

The judges said it was not a fit case for granting interim relief. "The interim stay granted in each of these petitions shall stand vacated." They posted the matter to the second week of March for further proceedings.

The Government formulated the district-wise scheme in May 1995. In 1997, it modified the area-wise scheme to facilitate operation of mini-buses to "cover the unserved rural areas." Initially, orders were passed to facilitate mini-bus operations for a distance of 16 km, of which 1 km would be on a sector covered by a State transport undertaking.

This GO was struck down by the High Court in January 1999 on the ground that no order overlapping an approved scheme could be passed.

When the Government's appeal against the order was pending, another GO facilitating operation of mini-buses to unserved rural areas of districts, where no stage carriage services were available, was passed. The High Court dismissed petitions against the proposal. Appeals against the order are pending.

Trips reduced

In November 2002, the Government decided to reduce the number of vehicles and trips operated by the State transport undertakings by more than 50 per cent in each district. It also proposed to permit private operators in notified areas by transferring permits of government undertakings. However, after the writ petitions were filed, the Government did not proceeded further.

On June 1, 2005, the Government came out with the latest proposal to modify the scheme and expand the operations of mini-buses, both in number and area.

Assailing the move, R. Vaigai, counsel for Tamil Nadu State Transport Workers Federation (CITU), said the performance of the existing mini-bus operators (in serving rural areas) under the unamended scheme was "dismal."

She said: "There has been rampant abuse of permits to cater only to the already served sector and not to the needy rural areas." The aim of the modification is to permit mini-bus operators to access more lucrative routes and not to cater for the rural and unserved sectors, she added.