After crippling strike, Kerala buses back on the roads

Government had warned private bus owners that their permits to operate the buses would be cancelled if they continued with the strike

Thiruvananthapuram: After nearly a week of staying off the roads and crippling normal life, private bus owners in Kerala called off their protest on Tuesday and resumed services.

The strike was called mainly to demand a higher minimum fare and end concessional travel to students.

The decision to end the protest came after a meeting with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the state capital.

Earlier, the government had warned private bus owners that their permits to operate the buses would be cancelled if they continued with the strike. That threat, and a dialogue with the chief minister on Tuesday appeared to have prompted the bus owners to call off their strike.

Even before the talks with the chief minister, the fissure within the private bus owners’ association was evident, with some operators deciding to resume operations. This forced the others, too, to call off the strike.

Minimum fares in buses in the state had been revised from Rs7 (40 fils) to Rs8 recently, but the private bus owners had refused to be satisfied with the hike, and went on strike demanding that the minimum fare be hiked to Rs10. They also wanted an end to concessional travel for students.

The fare per kilometre in Kerala is higher than in the neighbouring states and the state government refused to budge to the demand of the bus operators.

The private bus business in Kerala has been facing challenges over the past decade, with statistics showing that the numbers of private buses have declined from roughly 30,000 in the state to less than half that number over the past decade and a half.

The steep increase in personal transport facilities is considered to be a key reason for the private bus industry’s decline. The state-run Kerala State Road Transport Corporation has also been in financial difficulties, incurring an estimated monthly income-expenditure gap of Rs1.80 billion.

The KSRTC’s inability to pay pensions to its nearly 39,000 pensioners had put the state government under pressure earlier this month. Following statewide protests by the pensioners and suicides by some pensioners, the state government has promised to expedite the pension payments.

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