TODAY -

Revive Manipur's public transport system

Dr Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan *



Last year, an article on "Against Magic/Winger culture in Manipur" was published in The Sangai Express and other major media publications. The article highlighted the short-sighted and highly disorganised transport system of Manipur. The consequences of imbecilic transportation are increasing number of road accidents, heavy road traffic, pollution (noise and air), high cost and inconvenience to commuters.

The short-lived JNNURM sponsored HOP-ON bus service failed to make commutation any better. The current situation demands revival of public transport in Manipur, or proper regulation of the private players. Manipur's mass transport has been mostly undertaken by private buses. Once functioning MSRTC died an unceremonial death years back owing to incurring losses, thanks to frequent looting of passengers, and burning down of buses plying along NH-39. My generation did not see any MSRTC buses for public transport inside Manipur.

Today's youths may not know that MSRTC existed some years back. Some irresponsible employees of MSRTC are trying to mortgage the neglected residual assets of MSRTC outside Manipur. Yes, it is reported that MSRTC complex in Dimapur has been encroached upon and the report further claimed that the complex "has been reduced to money minting business in the hands of some unscrupulous official (s) whose main duty is to take care and protect the properties of the MSRTC, Dimapur".

Taking advantage of the absence of publicly funded transport system, district transport officers have established a lucrative nexus to distribute permits to Tata Magic/Winger vans for operation in a particular route without taking stock of the number of vehicles already plying in that route. This has resulted in an unhealthy competition among the owners/drivers for profit often resulting in a messy transport system. Commuters don't get vehicles in time and when they get it, they travel heavily packed. Comfort and Magic/Winger vans are like parallel tracks: they never meet each other.

On the other hand, the drivers/owners of these private transport vehicles make a good profit. At least 1000 rupees per day. Now, if Govt plans to introduce or regulate the system, many vehicles may go off the road. It would mean kicking their stomach mercilessly.

Mass transport system in most of the north Indian states is in bad condition. Even in Delhi, I have seen crammed Tata Magic/Winger vans in service, inspite of a wide range of options such as metro trains, many hundred bus strong JNNURM service, Volvo buses, private buses, rickshaws, autorickshaws, etc. The roads are too congested and traffic is slow moving resulting in more than 90,000 road accident deaths per year in Delhi. The situation is not any better in Guwahati.

In Ranchi, the autorickshaws and Magic vans accommodate 12 passengers each. Obviously it is scarily dangerous to take a ride in such overloaded vehicles. A driver told me that traffic police slapped unreasonable fine on them. To make up for the fine, the vehicles need to be overloaded. There is no queue system in the vehicle parking.

Therefore, there is violent competition among drivers to entice prospective passengers. Since there is limited option, commuters embark on such vehicles grudgingly. This situation is not much different from that of Manipur's current transport scene.

  A Winger van and a Magic van in Guwahati
Photo (L to R): A Winger van and a Magic van in Guwahati



South Indian states have well-maintained publicly funded mass transport corporations. They have both town and inter-city buses for the commuters. In both the categories, they have different services with duly authorised stops and dynamic bus fare. Daily and seasonal passes are issued on request, and ticket fares for senior citizens and kids are just half of the normal fare. Ladies, gents and senior citizen seats are clearly reserved. The vehicles are well-oiled, and service is frequent, punctual, cheap and dependable. The bus stops are cleanly-maintained and digitally-equipped. Private buses are few in south Indian states.

The state transport corporations have free and fair recruitment process and regular employees who ensure a complaint free service to commuters. The special advantages of having corporation buses are that public can work longer in the evenings to contribute to the economy, and commutation is safe specially for ladies and senior citizens who are crammed in wicked spaces of ill-maintained private mass transport vehicles elsewhere. These corporations are profitable and new buses are added to their fleet from time to time.

North Indians who visit or stay in south Indian states feel privileged because of the enjoyable corporation bus ride which they don't get in their home states. One such city I should mention here is Mysore. Mysore district population is much more than that of Manipur. The mass transport service in Mysore starts at 6 in the morning and closes at 10 pm. The roads are not too congested and traffic is fast moving. The buses are mostly low-floor type or fixed with automated door locking facility. Foot boarding is not possible. Accidents are much less.

 A KSRTC bus stand, designated bus stop, ultra comfort Volvo bus and ultra deluxe bus in Mysore.
 A KSRTC bus stand, designated bus stop, ultra comfort Volvo bus and ultra deluxe bus in Mysore.
Photo (clockwise from L to R): A KSRTC bus stand, designated bus stop, ultra comfort Volvo bus and ultra deluxe bus in Mysore.



Taking a cue from the success of transport corporations down south India, Manipur should wake up now to revive MSRTC. We should prepare a long-term revival strategy. The main reason for shutdown of MSRTC was incurring losses owing to frequent forced shutdowns and burning down of buses by protesters of various hues and affiliations. However, this kind of disturbances and law and order problems are not here to stay. But, Manipur will stay for centuries to come. We will see stability sooner than later.

In that case, as population grows, the limited public space (read as state highways) is going to be occupied mostly by personalised transport vehicles. These vehicles will increase road traffic, accident, pollution and inconvenience. To best of my knowledge, in mid-November to mid-December 2014 alone there were more than 15 road accident deaths and many more injured.

The suspended particulate content in the air of Imphal area could be alarmingly high. In the wake of these threatening data, one can only say that publicly funded mass transport system is going to be the future of commutation. If not today, we will have to revive MSRTC tomorrow to decongest roads, reduce traffic, pollution (noise and air) and minimise the consumption of fossil fuels.

In order to revive MSRTC, the Govt should first take stock of the existing assets and employees of the erstwhile corporation. Some way or the other public should have to be sensitised about the consequences of the absence of MSRTC. Strict rules should be laid down with legal implications. The loudest and strongest opposition will come from private mass transport vehicle owners which now include Magic/Winger van owners. Govt should come up with a formula to deal with the opposition.

There should be a time frame to phase out Magic/Winger vans from our roads. Local leaders should convince the Magic/Winger owners to upgrade to mini-bus by selling off their current vehicles. Govt should help them purchase buses. Govt should start recruitment of staff and acquisition of buses on loan from central Govt. If none of these options work, MSRTC should be started as public-private partnership. I am sure the young crop of civil servants will be able to revive MSRTC for growth and prosperity of Manipur.

Lack of transport facility has always been a thorn in the flesh of Manipur.


* Dr Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan write this articlee for e-pao.net
Dr Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan teaches at Gauhati University. The views presented in this article are personal and have nothing to do with the University. He can be contacted at nohimbo(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on January 08, 2015.


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