Suryakant Jena

Bhubaneswar: Odisha on Wednesday saw resumption of bus services for the first time since the enforcement of nationwide lockdown on March 22 in view of Covid-19 pandemic. This apart, OSRTC will now provide services in all green zones.

A special OSRTC bus started operations to facilitate office-goers in twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack from today. As per official sources, the fares have been fixed at Rs 30. The special bus will operate during the regular office timings.

Briefing media persons on the latest development, State Transport Minister Padmanabha Behera said that apart from OSRTC buses, intra and inter-district operation of private buses is also allowed between Green Zones.

"The government has allowed operation of OSRTC and private buses in Green Zones. But in case of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack where most of the government HQ offices are situated, the government has put in place only a single OSRTC bus for office goers. Since Bhubaneswar is still a Covid Red Zone, if need arises, number of OSRTC buses would be increased keeping in view the passenger footfall," Behera told OTV.

As per lockdown guidelines, the passenger capacity in the buses has been reduced to 50% and so fares have been doubled. The buses will operate in green zones with 50 percent occupancy to maintain proper social distancing, the minister said.

Odisha government has also allowed private bus owners to collect double passenger fares which will help them compensate the losses incurred due to disruption in services during lockdown period.

It may be noted that the private bus owners have not been in favour of running buses only in green zones as they fear losses due to low occupancy and also termed doubling of fares as not enough.

Odisha has so far reported a total of 538 Covid-19 cases with Ganjam being the worst affected with 210 cases. The Covid tentacles have now spread to a total of 21 districts of the State with 6 of them declared Red Zones, 12 Orange Zones and the rest Green Zones.

On the other hand, speaking exclusively to OTV, Odisha State Private Bus Owners’ Association Treasurer Barada Acharya said, “We welcome the State government’s decision to run OSRTC buses because if it thinks that it can normalise the passenger movement services and also earn revenue by running buses with half occupancy and double fare. But the government has not fulfilled our demands so far. How can we afford to run buses risking losses, ensure twice-a-day sanitisation of vehicles, risk lives of bus staff while ferrying passengers without Covid insurance.”

“Moreover, who will be responsible for violation of rules and occurrence of any untoward incident when passengers try to force their way into filled buses. This apart we also think that we cannot afford to collect double than normal fares from people who are already struggling due to myriad problems and financial issues amid Covid crisis,” Acharya said.

He further alleged, "We had raised several demands before Centre like waiving off loan interest on buses, extending time of insurance by six months, exempt toll gate collection and also requested Odisha government to exempt VAT and Cess from diesel but none of our demands have been fulfilled."

The State Private Bus Owners’ Association has however clarified that they have never given support to the government's proposal of collecting double fares from people to compensate losses.