Spearheading the discussion on nationalisation of bus routes

The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) conducted a discussion on ‘Nationalisation of bus routes’ headed by Mr. Antony B J (former Ernakulam Regional Transport Officer (RTO) and Advisor to Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) on September 18, 2018, at the CPPR office. The discussion was a part of the on-going Kochi Public Transport Day (KPTD) campaign organized by CPPR. It was attended by Mr. Jojy P. Jose (Ernakulam RTO), Mr. Shaji Joseph (Ernakulam Deputy Transport Commissioner), advocates, urban transport experts, representatives from KSRTC and private bus sectors, residents’ welfare associations (RWA), and the media.

The topic ‘Nationalisation of the public transport routes’ has a history dating back to the Motor Vehicles Act of 1939. The provisions have been contested by different stakeholders especially in the last two decades but there has not been any significant change in the outlook of the State towards the provisions and subsequent enactments, thereby enhancing relevance and contextual criticality of the discussion. Mr. Antony conducted the discussion in two parts; the first part introducing the concept of nationalization, the relevant Acts and rules, along with the associated issues; and, the second part discussing the various nationalisation schemes in Kerala.

Part I – What is Nationalisation of Public Transport? Acts, Rules & the Issues

Nationalisation refers to the partial or complete monopolization of public transport in the specified routes by the State Road Transport Operators, while excluding the private operators (in many ways as explained later).

Stage Carriage: All public and private transport buses plying multiple passengers from multiple origins and destinations are registered as ‘stage carriage’ which is included under ‘road transport service’. The Motor Vehicles (MV) Act, 1988, defines ‘road transport service’ as “a service of motor vehicles carrying passengers or goods or both by road for hire or reward” and ‘Stage carriage’ as “a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to carry more than six passengers excluding the driver for hire or reward at separate fares paid by or for individual passengers, either for the whole journey or for stages of the journey”. The stage carriage comes with a unique registration number for ownership, document and identification. A route permit is mandatory for stage carriages in order to control, monitor and manage their operations for the comfort and convenience of the passengers.

Despite no restrictions imposed by the law on the formation of state transport undertakings (STU), Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) is the only STU in the State. Also, the word ‘nationalisation’ does not appear anywhere in the MV Act, posing difficulties in studying and understanding the topic, stated Mr. Antony.

Provisions under the RTC Act and the MV Act

Promoting State’s Monopoly: To incorporate the special provisions for STUs, prepare government projects and to develop publication of nationalization schemes for the States, the Road Transport Corporations (RTC) Act, 1950 (amended in 1956) was formulated by the Central government. Later, The MV Act (amendment of 1969) introduced chapter 4(A) to promote State’s monopoly with more powers, resulting in the exclusion of private buses from the field. But, this amendment was rejected by the High Court and Supreme Court citing no constitutional protection and following which the Union Government added to section 4(A) to the ninth schedule of the Constitution of India in 1977, thereby making it a supreme law.

Limitation of RTA Today: Prior to the MV Act of 1988, the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) had the power to study and analyze the transit requirements in an area and call for interested parties willing to ply buses in that route and issue route permits when an application was received from the general public. Currently, the RTA has the power to grant the permit only if a private operator approaches the RTA with the willingness to ply buses in a non- nationalized route.

Power of MV Act 88’, Chapter 6: Section 97 to 108 of chapter six of the MV Act, 1988, gives the power to nationalise and overrides chapter five and all other laws. Any notification or scheme published under chapter six has statutory power and is a law, thereby freezing the right of private operators to apply for permits as mentioned in chapter five. Section 99 under chapter six explains the procedure of preparation of scheme and publication of the proposal, which was done by the STU (KSRTC in this case) prior to the Act of 1988, and is currently being done by the State Government as per an amendment. The nationalization schemes can be route notifications covering a particular route or an area notification covering an entire area.

Any objections to the notifications of nationalized schemes have to be filed in accordance with the provisions of law, within 30 days from the date of publication of the notification to the Secretary to the Government (Public Goods and Transport Department), lest, it shall not be considered. Section 104 of chapter six of the Act authorizes RTA to issue temporary permits in the notified area/ route where the STU has not made any application for a permit in the area/ route. The temporary permit will be valid only until the STU commences operations in the area/ route.

“The right of the citizen is subjected to overriding right of the State”, said Mr. Antony while reading a judgement by the Supreme Court. “An integration of the public and private bus services are required, thereby avoiding competition between the sectors and enhancing convenience for the passengers”, said Mr. M. T. Varghese (Ernakulam District Residents’ Association Apex Council), while suggesting that more such detailed discussions on how to achieve this integration is needed.

Part II – Various Nationalization Schemes in Kerala

Moving on to the second part of the discussion, Mr. Antony spoke about the selection of routes and intermediate places on the route under the nationalisation scheme. The intermediate places given in the notification helps in identifying the specific route where nationalisation is proposed. In some notifications, a term called intermediate points is used, which are points on the nationalized route where the routes of private buses and public transport buses can overlap.

Types of Schemes under Nationalisation: The nationalization schemes are complete exclusion schemes, partial exclusion schemes and supplementation schemes. Complete exclusion scheme refers to exclusion of private transport buses from the specified route with no exceptions. Partial exclusion schemes are those where both existing public, as well as private transport services, are allowed to operate but new permits can be rejected for the route. Supplementation scheme which enabled the STU to run and operate the stage carriage service in supplementation of existing passenger transport service on the concerned route is no longer valid. All supplementation schemes have ceased to exist by virtue of it being superseded by the partial exclusion scheme with effect from preliminary notifications dated 09.05.2006, 09.05.2007 and as per final notification dated 06.05.2008.

Challenges faced by Public Transportation: In the context of Kerala, the concept of nationalization has turned out to be an attempt to support the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) in the pretext of taking public interest into account. But with the nationalization of the majority of routes in Kerala, the commuting needs of the public have been adversely affected, as KSRTC with a fleet of about 6,000 lacked the capacity and numbers to cater to the routes which were earlier served by about 35,000 stage carriages.

Answering a question raised by Ms. Aparna Vijaykumar (Urban Transport Planner, WRI) on the negative impacts of stopping the supplementation scheme, Mr. Antony responded that there are no negative impacts to stopping the supplementation scheme, as prior to the Act of 1988, issuing of permits were limited, whereas, at present, any number of permits can be given out in the non-nationalised routes making the supplementation scheme insignificant. Some of the schemes have conditions stating the type of vehicles that are allowed under the scheme, such as mofussil or town vehicles. A final/ approved notification scheme will not have relevant information on the type of scheme, whereas the draft notification scheme specifies whether the scheme is a complete exclusion or partial exclusion scheme.

Conclusion

A landmark notification- 42/2009 in the Kerala Gazette, arrested the spread of private stage carriages in Kerala by providing only an overlap of 5 kilometres or 5 per cent of the nationalised route, whichever is less. This is the root cause for the inability to extend Vypin private buses to Ernakulam city, as these buses will exceed the above-mentioned limitations to the route. Dr. D. Dhanuraj (Chairman, CPPR) stated that there is a need to include private players in the public transport domain to ensure efficiency in services.

Closing in, Dr. Dhanuraj presented a memento to Mr. Antony along with a vote of thanks. The attendees who actively participated in the event expressed their interest in attending detailed discussions on the topic in future. CPPR plans to organize further sessions on ‘Nationalisation of bus routes’ as a part of KPTD in the coming months, with the objective of creating awareness and addressing the concerns on nationalisation.

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