The State government on Monday informed the Madras High Court that it has received tenders for procurement of 424 low floor buses and that after finalising the successful bidders, those buses would begin plying in Chennai (224), Madurai (100) and Coimbatore (100) cities by April this year.
Appearing before the first Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice T. Raja and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy, Senior Counsel P.S. Raman, representing the transport department, said the tender for procurement of low floor buses had been floated separately and that no one could have any grouse about it.
The submission was made during the hearing of a writ petition filed by cross disability rights activist Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Chennai challenging yet another tender floated by the transport department for procuring 1,170 non air-conditioned buses with a floor height of 900 mm.
The petitioner contended that the law permits procurement of only low floor buses (400 mm) or with a maximum floor height of 650 mm with ramps/kneeling system/lifts for entry. Therefore, she insisted that every new bus procured by the government must be a low floor bus.
The litigant told the court that the legal battle for universally accessible public transport was being waged since 2005 but the successive governments in the last 17 years had been citing either the huge costs involved in procuring low floor buses or the bad roads as reasons for avoiding them.
Finding force in her arguments, the judges wondered why was the government not procuring low floor buses since it would benefit not only the differently abled but also the elderly people. They wanted to know the specific reasons for the hesitation on the part of the government to procure 100% low floor buses.
To this, Mr. Raman said the government too was in favour of ensuring 100% low floor buses but the only problem was that it could not be done overnight due to poor road conditions in most places. He stated that the introduction of low floor buses could be done only in phases.
He pointed out that the transport department had planned to ply the 224 low floor buses in the arterial roads such as Anna Salai in Chennai city and another 402 high floor buses in suburban areas where the roads could damage the low floor buses. He sought time till January 20 to submit a detailed plan.
Accepting his request, the judges adjourned the hearing to January 20.