Rama Krishna Sangem
Revanth Reddy led Congress government’s first poll promise of free bus ride for women in all RTC buses comes into force from 2 pm on December 9, Saturday. This is also Congress top leader Sonia Gandhi’s birthday. This is also a day when Telangana’s newly elected MLAs will be sworn in. So, first of the six guarantees made by the party in just held elections is implemented from the day three of the government.
This is scheme is called Maha Lakshmi. Congress made free bus ride promise in this year May elections in neighbouring Karnataka and came to power there. Many experts debated the impact of this scheme on the loss making RTC, now a fully owned government corporation. Some say, this scheme should be limited to only rural services while others suggested it must be restricted to the below the poverty line women only.
Till recently, Telangana RTC was in deep losses, every time seeking bail out packages from the government. Already, there are many categories of passengers who are provided concessional travel – government employees, public representatives and journalists etc. Now, adding all women to this list will naturally affect the revenues of the beleaguered RTC drastically. The recurring losses of RTC touched Rs 5,000 crore.
What we have seen is that the governments of the day often failed to keep their promise of reimbursing the losses occurred to the RTC, thus leading to repeated strikes by employees or cutting of fleet or running aged out buses. A major reason for RTC’s losses is its extensive services in rural areas, a loss making network, while profit making routes are shared with private bus operators.
A similar promise of Congress in Karnataka shows some interesting outcomes. After the scheme was introduced there, the number of women taking RTC buses went up by 10-12 per cent. That means, men are sending their women folk for travel outside as it saves their household budget. Around 22,000 buses are plied in that state. Before the free ride scheme, around 30-35 per cent women traveled every day. After that free ride, it went up to 55 per cent.
Same thing will happen in Telangana too. Telangana RTC now plies around 6,600 buses on 13 lakh km every day. Its ticket sales is about Rs 14 crore per day. Here the share of women now is around 35 per cent. Definitely it will go up to 55 per cent like in Karnataka. That means more buses for RTC and a possible dip of Rs 4 crore per day. For this scheme, RTC will be adding more buses, to a total of around 7,200.
The possible revenue loss to RTC is expected to be around Rs 3,000 crore per year, as per RTC MD VC Sajjanar, IPS. All women, girls and transgenders too are eligible for this free bus ride.
Is it worth investing? Congress insiders who were involved with the preparation of its six guarantees say it is. They say this will remove gender discrimination against women on traveling, outside their homes. Men will encourage their women to take buses and carry out many household or business activities. Instead of giving every l or college going girl an two wheeler or some concession to women, this free ride will be easier and economical too, they say.
Sajjanar issued guidelines on implementing this scheme. Now, women will be allowed to travel on Zero ticket across Telangana, without any identity card. This applies to all services, city, Palle Velugu and express buses too. We need to observe for sometime and assess its implementation after three or four months. It is the responsibility of CM Revanth Reddy to see that RTC’s revenue deficit is promptly compensated.