The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) opposition walked out of the Kerala Legislative Assembly on Monday, accusing the government of forcing the financially ailing Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) into a death spiral with scarce concern for common folk entirely dependent on the public utility for travel.
Leader of the Opposition, V. D. Satheesan, said the KSRTC's service cuts to save on operational costs mostly punished poor people.
A commuter’s plight
Mr. Satheesan narrated the plight of a housemaid raising three girls by herself. She earned less than Rs 400 a day, working as part-time help in two far-flung apartments.
"The woman discovered that KSRTC had suddenly stopped the bus service, which she had relied on for years to get to work. Now the commute to work on an autorickshaw costs her Rs 180. Tell me how she can put food on the family table? "he said.
The State has failed to provide affordable transport to low-income families who could not afford personal vehicles, an autorickshaw, or a taxi commute.
He said the KSRTC had calibrated its services to ridership and revenue. Its calculus was to wring profits and not serve the common folk. An affordable and egalitarian transport system was the casualty.
The KSRTC has curtailed services, retrenched workers and deferred salary and pension payments to cut losses.
Mr. Satheesan alleged the government had allowed the KSRTC to atrophy to help supplant it with mega projects, such as K-rail.
The poor have to pay more, wait longer and leave home earlier to get to work. He suggested a stimulus package and fuel subsidy to help the KSRTC regain its financial footing.
"The KSRTC of yesteryear has helped low-income families go to work, send their children to school, and keep the daily deprivations of life at bay. Now, it has forsaken its public role", Mr. Satheesan said.
Single duty system
Transport Minister Antony Raju said trade unions should help the KSRTC implement the single duty system to save on costs. "The public utility cannot survive if it continues to pay double wages to employees during non-working hours", he said.
He said the incremental shift to electric buses would help KSRTC's finances.
So would the KSRTC-SWIFT firm, which operates profitable long-distance schedules. The government would pay delayed pensions and salaries before Onam and expand KSRTC's operations to villages and mofussil localities.
Congress legislator M. Vincent moved the adjournment motion to discuss the KSRTC's "plight". Speaker M. B. Rajesh denied the motion.