Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal, in his budget speech on Friday, announced an outlay of ₹1,788.67 crore for the transport sector, up from ₹1,444.25 crore in the last budget.
He has earmarked ₹1,000 crore to revive the loss-making KSRTC, an agency which has already strained the State exchequer of ₹1,822 crore during the current financial year. Interestingly, the total of ₹2,822 crore for the agency to stay afloat works out to over half the project cost of the 25-km Kochi Metro.
“A major challenge before government is to make KSRTC a profit-making entity, by taking effective steps for increasing the revenue, curtailing unnecessary expenditure and to reduce operational loss,” the Minister said in his speech. He further spoke of ₹30 crore being earmarked for the renovation of KSRTC depots and to improve amenities for passengers and employees and ₹20 crore for GPRS (ticketing) system, implementation of inventory, asset and fleet management modules, intelligent transport management system and installation of CCTVs in buses.
He also explained how KSRTC will garner non-ticket revenue by starting 50 new fuel outlets in the name of “KSRTC Yathra Fuels”, in collaboration with oil companies.
Bus operators peeved
Terming as highly disappointing the omission in the budget of private buses, whose combined fleet of 12,000 buses constitute over double the number of KSRTC buses, T. Gopinathan, general secretary of All Kerala Private Bus Operators’ Organisation, said the Minister had totally ignored the sector which catered to the commuting needs of the bulk of Kerala’s people. “Each private bus needs an average of 50 litres of fuel a day. The State Government alone gets about ₹20 as tax from each litre, or ₹1,000 per day per bus on that count. This is apart from an annual tax of over ₹1 lakh per bus”.
“Despite this, the government has not announced a tax incentive to help us stay afloat. On the contrary, KSRTC’s superfast buses have been permitted to operate up to nine years, instead of five years that was the norm, citing inability to purchase new buses. In this situation, we will be forced to announce an indefinite strike the coming week,” he said.
“The government seems to have conveniently forgotten the fact that the private bus sector provided employment to tens of thousands of people and helped ferry students at concessional rates. Our hope for sops on road tax and sales tax have fallen on deaf ears,” said Hamsa Erikunnen, State treasurer of Kerala Bus Operators’ Federation.
The budget has earmarked ₹50 crore for the conversion of diesel/CNG/LNG buses as electric buses, as part of efforts to rein in reliance on fossil fuels and others which cause air and noise pollution.
Another ₹44 crore has been set apart for the Motor Vehicles Department. This includes ₹5 crore provided for infrastructure development and modernisation of the check-posts.