CHANDIGARH:The Badals are not the only politicians in Punjab with their hands in the road transport pie. Plying private buses seems to be a lucrative and roaring side-business for most Punjab politicians across party lines.
On April 30, a 13-year-old girl died after being pushed off an Orbit Aviation bus, owned by the Badal family, after she resisted molestation attempts. Following public outrage, Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal ordered all Orbit Aviation buses off the roads. But last Friday, which incidentally was also the day of the bhog ceremony of the deceased teenager, Orbit buses were back on the roads. On May 3, another woman was molested near Ludhiana in a private bus belonging to Rajdeep Bus Service, owned by Youth Congress leader Rajdeep Singh.
Punjab has about 5,000 private buses compared to about 2,500 buses owned by state-run transport undertakings Punjab Roadways and the PEPSU Road Transport Corporation. In contrast, Haryana has 865 private buses and 4,000 are state-owned.
Sources said over 60 per cent of the private buses are directly or indirectly owned by politicians in Punjab. As per the State Transport Department records, of the 5,000 buses, around 600 buses are directly linked to prominent politicians. CM Parkash Singh Badal’s family owns around 230 buses in four transport companies, including Orbit Aviation Pvt Ltd, Dabwali Transport Company Ltd and Taj Transport Company.
While BJP leader Jagdish Sahni, from Batala, owns 27 buses through his two companies—Sahni Transport Limited and New Mid Bhawra Transport, People’s Party of Punjab president and nephew of the CM, Manpreet Badal, owns five buses under the Raghu Raj Service. Akali Dal’s Gidderbaha in charge, Hardeep Dimpa’s transport company plies around 60 buses. Senior Akali Dal leader Nirmal Singh Kahlon owns 40 buses under the Baba Budha Dal Bus Service.
Former Congress MLA Jasbir Dimpa owns 26 buses under the New Pyar Bus Service, and former minister and Congress leader Avtar Henry is the owner of Kartar Bus Service based in Jalandhar, which has 80 buses. Another Congress leader Kikki Dhillon has 30 buses while former Congress revenue minister, Amarjit Singh Samra, has 43 buses under Prince Bus Service. His family owns 14 buses of DMS Roadways.
On May 7, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the state government to submit a report on the action taken in the Moga molestation case and sought information about bus operators in the state. “Now the transport department will be putting details of private bus operators online: from route permits to details such as who owns the buses to whether they have paid tax or not,’’ said Harmail Singh, Additional State Transport Commissioner, Punjab.
The number of private buses in Punjab has doubled in the last two decades while that of state-run buses has come down by about 1,000. Private buses ply solely for profit and are known to violate traffic norms to take maximum passengers onboard. The state transport department has also allotted additional halt time to buses owned by Badals at various bus stands from eight to 15 minutes against four to five minutes given to buses owned by the state transport authorities.
Mangat Khan, president of Punjab Roadways Employees Union, said, “Despite SC and High Court orders not to disturb the time-tables they are tweaked to suit the private operators, especially for buses belonging to Badal-owned companies,” he claimed.