On the verge of collapse
MUMBAI: Bus & Car Operators Confederation of India – (BOCI) & School Bus Owner Association urged the Maharashtra government to provide immediate relief to the School Bus operators and their staff who are financially impacted and on the verge of closure due to COVID 19 lockdown. The Association has requested the government on bus staffer’s salaries for entire lockdown period, waiver of Taxes, Deferment of Motor Insurance, extensions of moratorium & waiver of interest, Parking fees issue to the Corporation, Increase the age limit of school buses from 8 years to 20 years in Mumbai and 15 years to 20 years in other areas of Maharashtra, subsidized fuel rates for school buses like BEST & MSRTC, Parking facilities for school buses, GST input credit benefits on purchase of new buses, Banning of illegal private vans plying as school buses and Vehicle Sanitization.
Over 50,000 school buses and around 1.5 lakh bus staffers are currently in financial distress as they have lost their jobs. Even Thousands of women employees who accompany school buses to take care of school children have also been rendered jobless by the lockdown and are struggling with the most difficult phase of their lives. These women are sole breadwinners of their families and have no other means of earning. With the entire school curriculums moving online, bus owners are burdened with taxes, insurance, maintenance, EMI’s, parking charges, etc., due to which they are forced to lay off their staff, as they are not being paid by schools or parents. The sector has made several representations to the authorities in the transport department, Ministries of state and to the Hon’ble Chief Minister of Maharashtra to draw their attention to multitudes of issues faced by the sector and have urged urgent action to alleviate their pain.
Addressing this concern, Mr. Anil Garg, President of School Bus Owner Association said, “We are staring at a bleak situation as the schools are closed for many months, whereas in Maharashtra, new academic year commences from April for ICSE and State board classes commences from June and bus fees is collected accordingly. Simultaneously, bus owners have not received the transportation fees for the academic year ending May 2020. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 crisis and followed by repeated extension of lockdown, many schools have started their classes online and schools have refused to pay bus owners saying that parents are not paying fees for buses as they are not using the bus service. This has led to thousands of bus operators being jobless as there is nothing that we can do to retain our staff. Over 2 lakh people in the state are already dependent on these buses for their livelihoods and many owners have taken loans to buy buses and haven’t been able to pay their loan instalments. If the authorities don’t act immediately, this sector will be on the brink of closure and create further stress on state economy. We request the state authorities to absorb the fleet of school buses which are lying idle into State and Municipal transport corporation for their public transport services as this corporations are facing shortage of buses due to COVID SOP’s to be followed” till conditions normalizes, thus aiding the Bus owners too.
The key asks of the sector to various authorities in the Government of Maharashtra are:
“Majority of the bus crew members especially bus drivers are from UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Karnataka and they have gone back to their natives amidst this COVID-19 crisis and lockdown. We are not sure whether they will be back to serve before the school reopens, if this continues there will be a massive shortage of drivers and cleaners and it will be very difficult to operate school buses with the shortage of manpower as school bus drivers are the most demanded segment. We would seek government intervention to provide some support to the bus owners and staff members to bring them out of this crisis”, said Mr. Anil Garg.
Mr. Prasanna Patwardhan, President, Bus & Car Operators Confederation of India (BOCI)said, “arranging transportation for schools will also be quite challenging as social distancing norms would need to be followed strictly. High end schools might not face a big problem as they can increase the fees and they can compensate for the additional burden of hiring more buses to transport children. But in standard schools will have to use the same buses for longer distances by having staggered starting and closing of different divisions and giving operators additional money to cover their running costs. Hence, Social distancing norms should be eased by the government and school authorities should direct the safety norms to the transporters as per the respective status quo”
BOCI has also addressed these issues in a letter to the Honorable Prime Minister requesting for the job security of 1 crore people who have not been paid during the lockdown and requested the government to take responsibility to pay salaries for 3 months. Rescheduling of all EMIs and Banks should be instructed to reschedule loans by giving at least six months moratorium period to all customers and to waive off the interest for the moratorium period. Banks and NBFCs should be advised to provide top-up working capital at low-interest rates to resume business.
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