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Kerala Govt fumbles, bus owners stand firm

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The bus operators rejected a request from the Government side to allow more time to study the demand for hiking fares.

Thiruvananthapuram , July 29

THE four-day-old strike by private bus operators in the State is set to continue with conciliatory talks failing to arrive at an amicable settlement on the contentious issues, including a long-pending demand for a fare hike.

Representatives of the All-Kerala Private Bus Operators' Federation had on Thursday met with a Cabinet Sub-Committee, specially constituted to deal with the issue, for almost two hours.

The Transport Minister, Mr R. Balakrishna Pillai, headed the Sub-Committee, which also had on it as members, the Labour Minister, Mr Babu Divakaran, and the Forests Minister, Mr K. Sudhakaran.

The bus operators rejected a request from the Government side to allow more time to study the main demand for revising the fares upwards. They were of the opinion that the Government had been given ample time . However, the federation was willing to hold another round of talks on Friday.

According to Mr Khaled Mundappally, President of the federation, it had no option but to continue with the strike since the Government had not come forward with any decision that would even remotely address its list of demands.

Briefing newspersons on the progress of talks, Mr Balakrishna Pillai said the Government had not taken a view on the demand for revising fares.

According to him, his statement in the State Assembly on the issue had been misinterpreted, giving an impression that the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (Natpac) had recommended a 20 per cent hike in fares.

Actually, Natpac, an autonomous body under the State Government, had only observed that costs of operating the fleet had gone up by 20 per cent. It had stopped short of recommending a fare hike, Mr Pillai added.

The Government was appreciative of the predicament of the bus operators in the context of frequent upward revision in diesel and spare parts prices and wanted to work around the problem without, however, going to the extent of effecting a hike in fares.

The bus operators had been given a list of suggestions on how the Government thought the issue was best tackled, and were expected to furnish their reaction when they come for the second round of discussions on Friday.

The Government, the Minister said, did not brace itself for adopting a confrontationist path with the bus operators in the matter. At the same time, it was keeping its powder dry for meeting with an eventuality in case the strike continued indefinitely, crippling normal life in the State.

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