With their strike on Monday, transport cartels have begun to clamour for still higher fares even when the long-suffering commuting public has yet to see some positive spinoffs out of the last hike, which was administered barely two years ago. With threats of an indefinite chaka jam if their demands go unmet almost immediately, the cartels have given the state government ample excuse to succumb yet again to what, from the point of view of the public and the abysmal state of transport services, amounts to pure extortion. That the government will oblige without demur is without question, but what merits attention is whether it makes some pretence at squeezing something for commuters. The substantial hike okayed the last time had totally failed to hold transporters to a semblance of a commitment to provide even the bare essentials of a service, and since, the government has made no effort to streamline and discipline their operations. The result is that transport is another sector functioning arbitrarily, with no oversight for safety and convenience not to speak of passenger comfort – and punctuality. It is not surprising that when dealing with transport cartels in matters of fares, the latter are not held accountable and liable for the quality of services they provide. If at all, during highly publicised crisis meetings with the government, transport associations pay lip-service to overloading, reckless driving and the other numerous forms of aberrant behaviour of operators, authorities are never known to have taken any steps to holding the cartels to their word.
Horrendous road accidents over the past months, involving passenger busses and taxi cabs, have without fail been results of unconscionable overloading and over-speeding on risk-fraught routes, and yet no transport union has been called to account for the culpability of its members and constituent operators. Even when these accidents have entailed heavy loss of life, often wiping out entire families, the government has not even chastened transport unions, not to speak of reading the riot act to ensure adequate safety norms. In any other society, such frequency and severity of mishaps involving public transport would have led to the summary de-recognition of the unions and bodies harbouring such rapacious and incorrigible elements. In Jammu and Kashmir, no one can say with certainty whether such unions, which crop up suddenly when fare and freight have to be hiked, are legitimate, registered and authorised representatives at all, or just spur-of-the-moment fronts in the grand project of extortion and profiteering. The latter would appear to be the more likely possibility, compounded by the fact that established associations are heavily constituted of vested interests of politicians and bureaucrats. It is no secret that many political leaders, and government servants, have huge stakes in the highly lucrative business of transport like in the mutton mafia. The common commuter may, therefore, brace him-or-herself for a hefty hike in fares, but no improvement in services. City transport, for instance will continue to be an arbitrary affair, with no regular timings, stipulated travel times, strictly-designated stops or after-dusk availability governed solely by the profit concerns of operators with no room and scope for accommodating passenger convenience.
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