BMC announces 100 crore monthly aid for BEST buses on conditions of Wet-leasing,

Citizens’ groups await further details

BEST buses

The BMC, on Thursday, has announced a financial aid of Rs 100 crore a month to “help the undertaking improve its transport wing.” BEST currently takes loans of Rs 184-crore every month to pay salaries and there has been a demand from various quarters to merge BMC-BEST budgets.

The announcement was made by Mayor V Mahadeshwar in the presence of group leaders of various political parties and the newly-appointed Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi. The Mayor said that it will take about seven to eight months for the merger and until then, financial aid of Rs 100 crore per month will be granted.

However, this announcement comes with several riders. BEST is required to work out a plan on procuring an additional 3000 buses through wet-leasing. Wet leasing is the process of handing out a service to a private contractor. The buses procured by wet-leasing are required to be added to the existing fleet of 3200 buses. Officials from the BEST have been asked to submit a report on wet leasing process to the BMC ‘soon’. Deputy General manager of BEST reportedly said, “We will work out the modalities of wet leasing another 3000 buses.”

Reportedly, the meeting was held to address BEST’s demand of a Rs 250-crore aid to pay off its dues to Tata power. The BMC, however, had made it clear that the package is only for its transport wing and that it will have to manage its electricity dues on its own.

The BMC is expected to conduct a review at the end of each month to ascertain how the money improved bus services. BEST officials have also been asked to consider a report of consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which estimated that the undertaking could turn a profit of Rs 150 crore a month by opening its depots and colonies for commercial exploitation.

However, citizens’ groups have mixed reactions on the development. Hussain Indorewala, assistant professor of Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi school and part of the forum to protect BEST buses, Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST (AMAB), said, “Now, BEST is getting a subsidy to justify wet-leasing. We welcome the merger but wet-leasing of buses will do more damage than good as the efficiency of buses will go down. Further, if commercialisation of BEST is being done, it will be a big blow to the undertaking in the long run. The subsidy is just another way for the administration to have its way. The only difference is that it’s being presented as a progressive step.”

The AMAB group said that they are awaiting more details from the BMC and that they welcomed the merger proposal, but without any of the conditions. They said that the conditions [of wet leasing] were not in commuters’ and public interest

Earlier this year, a 9-day BEST bus strike, longest in recent history, came to an end after a division bench of Chief Justice N.H. Patil and Justice N.M. Jamdar passed an order saying, “The mediator shall within a period of three months discuss demands put forth by the employees, like 20-step pay hike, merger of BEST and BMC budgets, and so on,”. The other demands raised during the time were about improving public transport, discouraging private cars, reducing bus fares drastically, increasing the frequency of BEST buses, purchasing new buses, reviving discontinued routes etc.
 BEST workers’ union leader, Shashank Rao, reportedly said that he was yet to receive a communication on the deal. “It’s the municipal corporation responsibility to run BEST undertaking which was one of our primary demands,” he said. BEST workers, whose primary demands were wage raises and a BEST-BMC budget merger, had agreed to call off their strike and accept a 10-step increment proposal after the Bombay High Court appointed a mediator to resolve all pending issues within three months.

Right now the plan for a transition to contractor run buses, or documents on cost savings etc. are still awaited. One of the most pressing concerns of falling ridership also needs to be addressed, still. It also remains to be seen whether wet-leasing will be combined with other reforms such bus priority lanes, traffic management, parking policy etc.



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