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Milch Cow?

Monday, January 14, 2019
By Prashant Hamine

As the acronym of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking, BEST suggests, it once was rated as the BEST for its Transport service in Asia. From what was rated as the BEST more than two decades ago, today it has become subject of ridicule, criticism and apathy over its state of affairs. Once it was known for its efficiency and punctuality, more than the suburban train service and more relied upon in times when the suburban rail services broken down. Today, it has been afflicted by corruption and inefficiency. It is the manifestation of the corruption and politics that has crept into the system which has turned it into an Milch Cow for some.

The downward spiral of the BEST especially its transport wing is seen on the roads with increasing number of private vehicles on the roads, traffic jams and the pressing need for expanding the Metro rail network covering the metropolis. Ideally, an efficient public transport should have resulted in less of car jamming on the roads, speedier transportation of people and goods with more efficiency. If the textile mill strike of 1982 called by veteran trade union leader late Datta Samant wiped out the famed textile industry out of Mumbai, the repeated BEST transport strike ominously seems to be following in the same direction.

The ongoing strike is more political than anything given the fact that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are fast approaching and the six Lok Sabha seats, and Mumbai is up for grabs, politically and electorally. The transport unions are political, the Autorickshaw, Taxi and Private Bus operators are all political. So a strike call by one is a windfall for the other. In a heavily politicized and corrupt administrative machinery, it is the common man who relies on public transport has to bear the brunt of it all. Besides this the increasing competition from public transport services of Navi Mumbai, Thane, Mira-Bhayandar and Maharashtra State Transport Corporation (MSRTC, ST for short) has been like a soft silent death blow for the BEST.

The malady afflicting the BEST has got to do more with the systemic corruption. As one BEST conductor while talking to this correspondent on conditions of anonymity disclosed these days the depot manager is least bothered about the physical working condition of a BEST bus, which has to be mandatorily sent for overhauling, retro-fitting and refurbishing after every three years of operations on the road. Then there is pilferage and corruption in the diesel, petrol, bus tyres and spare parts which is causing frequent breakdowns and accidents.

The advent of private bus service operators thanks to the blessings of the BEST depot managers and their political masters has already sounded the death knell for the BEST. As the BEST bus conductor explained the private bus service operators which apparently operate with political patronage have robbed the BEST of its passenger traffic and revenue. This menace can ben seen more in suburbs like Borivali, Malad, Goregaon, Andheri and Kurla. These operators operate on the same routes like the BEST does and charges less than what the public transporter does.

The advent of private aggregators like Ola, Uber, Meru and others has only worsened the situation for the BEST. With no money left for modernisation of its fleet, closure of its airconditioned buses, the greed of some to make easy money at the expense of the organization has spelt disaster for the once famed transport network that covered the entire metropolis. The remedies are many, but the rot that has seeped into the system is such that it will not allow any course correction anytime soon, only if it is backed by a strong political will with good intentions and strong public pressure.

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