Devbrat Patnaik

Of late, Mo Bus – the public transit system operational in Bhubaneswar and its neighbouring cities – has been earning a bad name over repeated instances of loots inside the bus. The Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) which operates the Mo Bus service has sprung into action on almost every occasion, but seems it still isn’t enough. All is still not well with the carrier when it comes to safety of commuters.

A recent incident in the capital city has evoked a sense of fear among the passengers, the women in particular.

READ | Two members of gang behind 'Mo Bus' pickpocketing arrested; mobile phones, laptops and cash seized

A girl Yagyaseni Patro (name changed) who boarded a 'Mo Bus' in Bhubaneswar on Tuesday had no idea that the ride would turn nighmarish for her, so much so that she narrated it in a Twitter thread citing it as the creepiest encounter she has ever experienced. Here's what she wrote in the thread:

Today (Nov 1) I was travelling alone using the Mo Bus number 12 of the CRUT from Jaydev Vihar to The World square. An old and drunk man had also entered the bus. Though denied entry by the conductor at first, he was persistent and came in anyway. After I was given my ticket, when the old man was asked for his destination he said, "I will go where my gelhi (usually a word of affection for the young girls in the family) is going." When I looked at him because I could tell he was referring to me he said, "Kana anauchu kana" (why are you staring). And then he went on to keep rambling on about how I am like his natuni (granddaughter) and he will go where I go. I still cannot say for sure that he was referring to me. But when I felt uncomfortable and went and stood near the driver, the man came and stood right behind me and I kept on looking to make sure he doesn't touch me. He still kept rambling on. It was my fault that I did not say anything at this point, anxiety took over. I kept looking around to see if there's anyone who would help out if I spoke up. After this the conductor decided to intervene and told the man to get down at the next station, which was also where I was supposed to get down anyway. I again moved back to the end of the bus to get down from the other door and almost ran back home. I haven't felt this unsafe even while travelling in Delhi buses and that is saying something.

ALSO READ | Mo Bus continues to be happy hunting ground for pickpockets in Bhubaneswar

Requesting CM Naveen and CRUT to look into the matter, the girl demanded, "Safe public transport for women especially those travelling alone should be a top priority of the government. The male and female conductors both should also be sensitised to such issues."

CRUT immediately responded, "Ma'am, we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused. Regular counselling with special focus on gender sensitive passenger management is provided to the crew to ensure safe commute for all. In case of any concern while commuting in Mo Bus, please reach out to the Guide immediately." 

ALSO READ | Pickpocket menace in ‘Mo Bus’: Rs 15K stolen from cancer patient

What one ponders over now is whether the government is actually helping (women) passengers or rather ‘throwing them under the bus’ allegedly in absence of any concrete plan. Delhi, for example, engages Bus Marshals for safety of passengers. Before situation turns hostile here, does Odisha government also need to start thinking on the same lines? The collective voices would say, it is high time the government includes women-only transit options along with augmenting other safety initiatives. 

It is pertinent to note that the Odisha government recently decided to make installation of panic button and vehicle location tracking (VLT) device mandatory in all commercial and passenger vehicles plying in the state, from March 31, 2023. These changes would not only ensure the safety and security of commuters but will also aid in emergencies and medical needs. As soon as passengers in distress press the emergency buttons near their seats, it will send an emergency signal to the command and control centre (likely to be set up in Bhubaneswar), post which the vehicle will be tracked and necessary assistance would be provided immediately.