Public Transport Woes

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The loss making Manipur State Road Transport Corporation, MSRTC, which was put to rest halt a two decades ago, after several decades of invaluable service, is unlikely to see another life in the near future. The demise was unfortunate, but it was made unavoidable by the sheer callousness with which the authorities handled the corporation. The public sector corporation was making huge losses not on account of just the subsidies burden every welfare government must bear in extending essential public services to its people, but because of pilferages, lack of motivation, and not the least over-employment, a phenomenon which has become the undoing of most other public sector undertakings, not just in Manipur but all over India. Making it worse is also the fact that a good section of the work force had been given employment not on merit, but as favours by politicians and bureaucrats. But having said this, the economy of the state being such, there is still the need for the government to be present in this most essential sector of public transport, fright as well as passengers. The government packing up lock, stock and barrel and leaving this service totally to the private operators is not just a question of admitting defeat but also shirking responsibility. Private operators, both by the compulsions of survival economics or else driven by the profit motive, will be always reluctant to ply the non-profitable routes, and in the process abandon many of the state`™s most backward and impoverished interior regions. In this age of a globalized world, and when the overriding concern in the state is one of integrity, physical as well emotional, the government cannot afford to have its remote districts and subdivisions, recede further in psychological distance from the state`™s core. Even otherwise, it is the bounden duty of the government, particularly one with a declared welfare objective, not to abandon its less privileged citizenry to hapless despair.

We see no reason why the MSRTC cannot be a profitable, or else be at least a self-sustaining undertaking. In the failure of the MSRTC, we also see the abject failure of the government as an enterprise itself. During its hey days, the MSRTC is said to have commanded a more than healthy fleet of over 200 passenger and freight vehicles. This is in direct contrast to private transport operators with just a handful of vehicles doing roaring business. The point is, with its resources, it could have run the profitable routes, offering its services at competitive market prices, and run the non-profitable routes at subsidized rates as part of fulfilling a governmental obligation. That is to say, the profit it makes from freight transportation of FCI and FCS goods as well as running passenger services to destinations such as Guwahati and Shillong, should be able to bear the cost of subsidized passenger services to townships and villages such as Tamei, Tousem, Henglep, Kamjong etc.. If the MSRTC was doing this, nobody would have asked for its shutdown even if the corporation were to incur some losses, for then the losses, if at all, would have been considered as a worthwhile price paid for a social cause.

Our opinion is, the government must not abandon the MSRTC altogether, at least not the passenger sector. It must restructure the organization and its management radically to make it leaner and fitter. First of these reforms must involve `right-sizing` its work force. The corporation must have only as much staff as it needs and no more, and it must also have only the most competent on its payroll. Perhaps it will do well to introduce a professional private management, on reasonable but strict terms of hire and fire contract, based on performance and meeting targets. In the not so distant future, there is also going to be two functional international highways passing through Manipur opening up previously unknown routes and markets to the state. It is time the government started thinking long terms, over and above the need to meet its many emergent situations.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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