Himansu Shekhar Rout

Amid Puja celebrations, bus services will be severely paralysed across Odisha from 6 AM on Friday, portending a harrowing time for commuters and people waiting to travel back home for festivities with families. 

The Odisha private bus owners remained adamant on their earlier stand to go on an indefinite strike from October 20 after their discussions with the CMO on various demands remained inconclusive on Thursday. 

Speaking to the media, Debendra Sahu, the secretary of the private bus owners’ association, said, "We stuck to our earlier decision on indefinite strike from 6 AM of October 20 as the discussion with the CMO on Thursday remained inconclusive.”

He further added that they had talks with the CMO this morning, but no written assurance was received regarding their demands. 

Sahu also said the indefinite strike during Puja time is not intended to put people in trouble. “We were bound to do it against our will. For their inconvenience, we tender an apology to the commuters.” 

Nearly 14,000 private buses are operating in Odisha. The private bus operators, who are protesting the State government's affordable transportation for people across the state under the location-accessible multimodal initiative (LAccMI), have called for an indefinite strike from 6 AM tomorrow. 

On the other hand, as the Durga Puja celebrations are underway, people with travel plans to their hometowns and other places are deeply worried about the strike. Even on Thursday evening, a huge rush was witnessed at bus stops and terminals in various parts of the state including Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Balasore. 

With an indefinite bus strike starting from 6 AM tomorrow, panic and frustration gripped the waiting crowd. 
A passenger at Baramunda bus terminal in Bhubaneswar, said, "I have been waiting for half an hour to board a bus.

However, neither government buses nor private buses are available. I have to go back home for puja. For lack of space, we are unable to stand, sit, or keep our belongings, as the place is heavily crowded. The bus strike has been a cause of concern.”
Another passenger on his way to Malkangiri, said, "Tickets for private and government buses are not available now. Since I have ventured out of the house, I have to go home regardless of the bus fare. Thousands of passengers like me are suffering now after getting stuck at the bus terminal.”

Meanwhile, Odisha Transport Minister, Tukuni Sahu said, "The decision of the private bus owners' association is completely unilateral. We called them for discussion again on October 26. People should not suffer and the bus owners should cooperate with us."

However, the minister termed the LAccMI bus services, which are being opposed by bus owners, as a people-friendly scheme and said it will continue. 

Responding to the minister, Debendra Sahu, the secretary of the private bus owners’ association, said," We welcome what the minister has proposed., but we want a written assurance on what was discussed at the meeting. We have still 8 to 100 hours left for the strike. If we get a written assurance from the minister, we will call off our strike."

'Buses will ply in Balasore'

On the other hand, private buses will operate in Balasore tomorrow and the district private bus owners association will not be a part of the strike. 
Addressing the media on Friday, the president of Balasore district private bus owners' association said, "We are not against the strike, but this is not the right time. Announcing tomorrow's strike today evening is not right at all."

Notably, the private bus owners’ association on Tuesday announced its decision for an indefinite strike after its general body meeting. It flip-flopped on its earlier decision to defer its October 10 strike till October 31. The association accused the state government of reneging on its assurance given to the private bus operators.