Transporters ready to operate at new bus stand, demand cabs not be allowed to move beyond Parimpora
Riyaz ul Khaliq
Srinagar: In a move to decongest Srinagar city, J&K government is set to shift the General Bus Stand (GBS) from Batamaloo to Parimpora along the city’s western periphery. However, the move also resented by the traders around Batamaloo, has generated anguish among transporters.
Moved to Batamaloo during early 1980s after the then chief minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, laid the foundation of the bus stand in 1978. A 60-year-old bus driver recalled that he started plying his vehicle from Batamaloo GBS in 1982. Every day, transporters claim, thirty thousand passengers travel through the bus terminal.
“We run 290 services each day,” said Bilal Ahmad Pandit, the General Secretary of the Western Bus Service (WBS). The service runs bus services to western, central and northern areas of Kashmir valley. “We have 630 buses registered with us,” Pandit told Kashmir Reader at his office chambers in Batamaloo, flanked by a dozen anguished bus drivers and associates.
Besides, Pandit added, that Kashmir Motor Drivers (KMD) run nineteen services a day to Ganderbal and its adjoining areas from Batamaloo. “The GBS has 110 kanals of land allotted to it. Not only buses, other businesses also run from Batamaloo.”
Recalling how the idea to shift the GBS was initiated, the president of the Western Min-Bus Services, Muhammad Yousuf, said that in 2003, a lawyer filed a petition in the J&K High Court seeking the de-congestion of city that resulted in the order.
“In 2005, the High Court issued orders and the bus services to South Kashmir were shifted to Pantha Chowk where a new terminal was constructed,” he said. “Only central and north Kashmir bound buses plied from Batamaloo since then.”
Yousuf said the WBS has been directed to shift all their buses to Parimpora before Eid-ul-Azha in September this year. Till 24th July in 2017, services for only 57 routes to areas in Budgam had been moved. Around sixteen hundred mini-buses are registered with the association, some of which also ply on different routes in Srinagar city.
Transport associations claim that around seven thousand people are directly associated with the services. At least four hundred pre-fabricated shops, named as Iqbal Market, were installed under the bus terminal building by Srinagar Development Authority few years back.
In its latest directions to J&K Government, the J&K High Court has asked the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to close the unauthorised “Sumo and bus stops/stands”.
“We too want de-congestion and development, but we have our families to feed,” Yousuf said.
In July, the association of businessmen in Batamaloo observed a three-day strike against the government move. “We do business because of the passengers brought here by the buses,” a shopkeeper said. “When there are no buses, who will come to us?”
The transporters said that they were ready to shift their bases to Parimpora if government met some of their demands. “Sumos, which are meant for contract carriages, have been illegally ferrying passengers,” an office bearer of a transport association said. “Sumos are supposed to ply from origin to their destination without stopping mid-way, but they ply like a bus which has stage carriage permit.”
A vehicle with stage carriage permit plies on routes with designated stops for passengers. In Kashmir, such permits are allotted to buses and mini-buses only.
“Our demand is that the Sumos not be allowed to move beyond Parimpora,” Pandit said. He claimed that around ten thousand cabs ply in Batamaloo every day.
“At Parimpora, government has only allotted 57 kanals against 110 kanals of land at GBS Batamaloo,” Pandit said. “At least ten offices of various transport associations run from Batamaloo terminal building. At Parimpora, there is no such facility. Drivers and conductors stay put for night at GBS Batamaloo, but we cannot do so at Parimpora. There are no public toilets or other necessary services.”
Yousuf explained that mini-buses would only run inside the city. “Our services ran from Lal Chowk, behind Lal Rukh Hotel, but we were moved in 2006 to Batamaloo,” he said. “We were told that the city was being de-congested, but the government allotted the same space to state run road and transport corporation.”
This all has happened, the transporters rue, when the government increased the taxes levied on this sector. “A general bus owner pays token tax, passenger tax, insurance and fitness fee,” Yousuf said. “And, after last state budget, there was an increase in all these taxes.”
Adding to their woes, Pandit claimed, there was an increase of Rs 4000 in general bus insurance since Goods and Services Tax was implemented in J&K.
However, he admits that the state government waived off taxes on transport sector for six months in 2016 ,as Kashmir remained shut, following the death of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani.
“On Fridays and Sundays,” the Haji Peer Transport Association president said, “businesses remain slow in Srinagar and in case any damages are done to any mini-bus, half of the repairing cost is born by the association.”
Confident that the process of moving the GBS to Parimpra shall complete in August, Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, Farooq Ahmad Lone, told Kashmir Reader that the process was under way and in the process, the basic demands of transporters would be met.
When asked whether Sumos too will be adjusted at Parimpora terminal, he added, “Yes. No vehicle, including cabs, will be allowed to move beyond the new bus stand.”