A change in guard in the frontier state of Punjab has spelled a doom for the shady transport business which has been in vogue between 2007 to 2017.
Wheels of over 7,451 buses including mini buses, AC coaches, super integral coaches and HV AC coaches owned by nearly 100 passenger bus transport companies including Orbit Aviation and Dabwali Transport, which are co-owned by former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal (majority stake), his close aide Hardeep Singh Dhillon and a Congress leader and former minister Avtar Henery, will be jammed soon.
Sources said a former transport department employee who recently retired also has stake in some of the transport companies
Transport companies in which Sukhbir Singh Badal, his associate Dhillon and Congress leader Henry have a stake are among those whose bus permits will be cancelled.
Permits which will be cancelled.
Highly placed sources told India Today that the High Court had directed the state government to cancel the illegal bus permits but the transport department delayed the process. Involvement of a senior transport department official ,who also owned stake in some bus companies, has also come to the light. Sources privy to the information said the permits were not cancelled by the transport department officials due to the interference by the ruling government politicians and vested interests of its own officials. The process to cancel the permits was initiated by the new government.
The documents accessed by the India Today reveal that the previous government gave repeated extensions to 1,840 bus owners beyond 24 kilometres, which will now be cancelled. Besides this, 684 inter-state carriage permits were issued which will also be cancelled. The government will also cancel permits of 67 AC buses besides 6,700 mini buses. Total permits which will be cancelled in the next three months are 7,451.
Punjab government Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said that the entire transport sector in Punjab is controlled by the "mafia which is headed by some big political groups including the Badals".
BENAMI TRANSPORT COMPANIES IN PUNJAB
While the state government plans to cancel the permits, there are reports that politicians and their aides have been running benami transport companies in the state. Captain Amarinder Singh government has directed the officials to prepare the lists of bus owners and permit holders. The opposition AAP has demanded a crackdown on the benami transport companies which were floated by the politicians and their aides.
"Merely jamming the wheels will not bring an end to the transport mafias. What we want is that the Congress government should make a commitment to the public. There are benami transport companies similar to how the Badals have hijacked the transport business. Will the government cancel their permits? We want the mafia perpetrated by the Badal family is broken," Chief of Whip, AAP, Sukhpal Singh Khaira said.
COMMUTERS TO FACE INCONVENIENCE
However, the biggest hurdle to jam the illegal wheels will be to pull the buses off the road where state transport buses are not plying. This may result into a big inconvenience to the public. According to the state government sources, the permits of illegal buses plying together with the state-owned buses on the same route will be cancelled immediately. The owners of private buses plying on important routes lacking state transport buses will be given a month's time to withdraw. Meanwhile, the state government plans to introduce government buses on these routes to minimise the inconvenience to the commuters.
"This is one case which was under consideration of the honourable High Court from the past many years. Directions have come from the high court that the permits need to be cancelled. I believe that the government has no option but to comply with the orders and since there is a new government, we had in our first cabinet meeting resolved that a new transport meeting and within three months a new transport policy will be framed. By doing so, we will bring accountability in disbursing permits," Punjab finance minister said.
"We may give a month's time to the transporters to comply with the high court orders and will simultaneously strengthen the state transport system so that the commuters don't face any hardship," Manpreet Badal added.
BADALS OWN OVER 60 PER CENT PRIVATE TRANSPORT BUSINESS
According to an estimate Badal family owns over 60 percent of state's private bus services .While Orbit Aviation has a fleet of 60 luxury buses, Dabwali Transport owns over 230 buses which ply on various routes in Punjab.Sources say Sukhbir Badal's companies also have a sizeable stake in transport companies owned by his close aides like Hardeep Singh Dhillon,Jagpal Singh and Lakhvir Singh.
When contacted Badals refused to comment on the issue and said they are watching the situation and will speak when the government fails to fulfill its commitments.
"This is not a big story you trying to find .Give them some time ," former Revenue Minister and brother of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal Bikramjit Singh Majithia said.
It is worth mentioning that the bus staff and buses owned by the Badal family enjoyed a special status on highways and the bus stands. While the buses were escorted by the police at times, they were allowed an extra time at the bus stands which caused crores of loss to the state exchequer.The state government transport employees associations had raised the issue but the then government had turned a blind eye due to the vested interests.