Mumbai: BEST struggling to stay on track, even as BMC allocates it only Rs 10 cr

Committee members across political parties want this paltry sum to be returned; BEST also failed to provide civic body plan to secure Rs 100-cr grant

The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking, which is trying hard to revive its fortunes, increased its fleet from 3,391 buses in 2005-06 to 4,167 buses in 2014-15. But all its efforts have gone downhill, as it failed to provide its plan for a Rs 100-crore grant which was to be given by its parent organisation, the BMC, as promised last year. The BMC allocated a mere Rs 10 crore in its annual budget as loan to the Undertaking.

The BEST has hiked its fares constantly over the past couple of years to boost its revenue. Yet the number of passengers per bus everyday is declining. File pic
The BEST has hiked its fares constantly over the past couple of years to boost its revenue. Yet the number of passengers per bus everyday is declining. File pic

mid-day looks at the health chart of BEST, which is poor in many ways. To begin with, the fleet had grown from 3,391 buses in 2005-06 to 4,700 buses in 2010-11, after which they realised that the number of buses was too much to handle, and cut down the fleet to 4,167 buses in 2014-15. But on an average, 300-400 buses remained off roads due to maintenance work.

Sadly, utilisation of buses on the roads has been dropping over the past 10 years. “The rising vehicular traffic and condition of roads are a major reason,” said a BEST official.

Declining number of passengers
Currently there are only three routes that make profit. This is also despite the fact that the BEST has hiked its fares constantly over the past couple of years to boost its revenue. Yet, the number of passengers per bus every day is declining year after year.

“The most common complaint is the waiting time for passengers at a bus stop. There is no fixed time for buses to come, plus, the fact that our proposal of running dedicated lanes for buses hasn’t been approved. We are working for technological advancements like getting to know the time of arrival for a bus, but until more space is provided to our buses, the delays will continue,” said a BEST official.

Running the buses has become a burden for the Undertaking, which was spending Rs 300.89 lakh annually on its fleet in 2005-06. This has risen substantially – almost double — at Rs 648.68 lakh for running a fleet that has been cut down in size. According to the plans made by BEST, they will be reducing the fleet to 3,900 buses by the end of this financial year. In another two years, additional buses were to be procured to take the total fleet to 4,200.

What happened on February 8
The BEST failed to provide its plan for the Rs 100-crore grant. The BMC kept a mere Rs 10 crore in its annual budget as loan to the Undertaking, despite having a humongous Rs 37,052-crore budget for Mumbai. There was a furore over this in a meeting on February 8, as the committee members representing different political parties asked the BEST not to accept this miniscule amount and return it. Members also stated that instead of Rs10 crore, the BMC could have simply waived off the interest on loan.

Using the R100 crore, the BEST was to procure 300 more buses after scrapping the older ones; as per the initial plan. “The new buses wouldn’t come for at least 14-21 months as there has been a delay in obtaining this grant from us, by the BEST,” said Yashodhar Phanse, Standing Committee chairman of BMC.

Phanse claimed that until now, the BEST has not stated their plans on how they will procure the buses and what they would do with the Rs 100 crore grant. “In fact this seems to be a ploy to sabotage the Shiv Sena’s prospects before the 2017 BMC elections and we demand an inquiry as to why these buses weren’t procured,” added Phanse, claiming that Jagdish Patil, BEST general manager , might be supporting a political party.

But Patil denied having political affiliations. “I want to make it clear that I have no political affiliations and I shall resign if proven guilty of being responsible for the BEST’s current state. Any sort of inquiry can be made about the Rs 100 crore. We were studying the type of buses needed for which tenders were also called in November 2015, for which only one bidder came forward. We are now buying new buses after few manufacturers showed interest,” said Patil.

As per the current status, one manufacturer has promised to deliver the buses within 14 months, while another will take another 21 months. The BMC has promised to give Rs 100 crore only if the BEST shows their plans for utilisation of buses and betterment of Mumbaikars’ commute which, until now, has only been declining.

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