KOCHI: Two kinds of pachyderms attract a lot of attention in Kerala. One, the caparisoned tuskers at festivals, as we saw during the recent Thrissur Pooram. The other is the state-owned public transport buses called ‘aanavandis’ (elephant-vehicle). While the former attracts awe and appreciation, the hapless ‘aanavandis’ often come under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Currently, there has been a lot of buzz over the KSRTC’s financial mess.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that some of the tom-tommed projects launched to revive its fortunes have gone bust, akin to its coffers. A case in point is the Bypass feeder service, which was launched with great aplomb. But, sadly, it failed to take-off in the way the corporation expected.
The situation is such that not a single day goes by without trolls starring KSRTC doing the rounds on social media. A trending one these days has been a suggestion to convert some KSRTC buses into bars!
The latest blow, courtesy the lack of vision and mismanagement, is the plight of the low-floor AC buses in Kochi. Ten of them are currently heading to the scrapyard. The Thevara Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation (KURTC) depot, which started in 2016 with 50 AC and 110 low-floor buses, has only under 80 buses left. “Of these, 52 buses were shifted to other depots to conduct long-route services,” said a KSRTC official. “Now, only 28 remain and of these only 18 were found to be salvageable. These 18 are being repaired and will then be shifted to other depots to conduct services.”
Only the body of the buses would be sold as scrap, the official said, adding that mechanical parts such as the engine would be removed. Biju Prabhakar, CMD, KSRTC, said, “The original estimate that we had drawn up put the total cost of carrying out maintenance works at around `9.5 crore. However, a committee set to analyse the finances said the works could be completed at a budget of `7 crore.”
On further analysis, he added, it was found that if 10 buses were removed, Rs 3.5 crore could be saved. “Also, if the mechanical parts can be salvaged from the condemned buses, `2 crore can be saved by using these in the other buses. Hence, we decided to condemn 10 buses in the worst condition,” he explained.
With lots of buses in hand and no means to operate service due to fund crunch, KSRTC is trying out different plans to steer itself out of a tight corner. A new project on the anvil will see bus services in the rural areas. According to an official, the concept is called ‘Gramavandi’. “It will see us operating services in the rural areas in association with the local self-government bodies,” he added. “Under the project, the buses will be provided by KSRTC, while the LSGs will bear the fuel cost.”
According to KSRTC officials, the Swift services have been well-received. “The first Swift service between Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram, that was conducted on May 13, was fully booked. The same was the case with the pairing service,” said a KSRTC official. Other Swift services that have been launched are Ernakulam-Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram-Ooty. “These services too have been received well by the Malayali samajams in Chennai, Gudalur, Pandalur and Ooty. The services are booked completely,” he added.