Petitioner Munikrishnan submitted that he came to know through print and visual media that the state government has hiked the bus fares from January 20, citing various reasons like increase in diesel prices, spare parts, maintenance and salaries. He said, as per statistics, 80 per cent of the people use buses for travelling, particularly the poor and middle class as it was more affordable compared to other modes of transport.
The petitioner alleged that the state government has been spending huge amounts of public money for achieving their political goals and shifting the burden on public by saying that there is a financial crisis in the transport department. The sudden and steep fare hike had put people to irreparable hardship, Munikrishnan said, adding that those dependent on the bus services were now forced to spend 25 percent of their salary as transport expenses.
When people were already suffering due to the Goods and Services Tax (GST), demonetisation and price hike in other basic necessities, the state government has hiked the bus fare against the welfare of the public, he added. Petitioner's counsel R Y George Williams made a mention before a division bench, comprising Justices R Subbiah and T Ravindran, that he be permitted to file a petition against the bus fare hike and the matter be heard early.
Granting permission, the bench said the matter would be heard tomorrow. On January 19, the Tamil Nadu government hiked fares of buses under the state-run transport corporations and private entities by about 20 to 54.54 per cent. The new fares came into effect from January 20. The government also announced a fund for accident compensation and prevention, besides a panel to go into the restructuring of bus fares in the future. It cited factors for the hike, including increase in fuel price and maintenance, annual increment in salaries, pension and purchase of the new buses to increase efficiency.
A recent interim direction of the Madras High Court in a transport-related petition was also cited to support the decision to effect a hike in fares. Workers of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation owing allegiance to 17 trade unions, including those affiliated to the DMK and Left parties, had gone on strike on January 4 after failure of talks with the government on wage revision. While the unions wanted a 2.57 times hike, the government offered only 2.44, resulting in a stalemate.
The strike severely crippled public sector bus services, causing immense hardship to the public, including office-goers in the cities though the government tried to maintain the services by roping in temporary drivers and private buses. The AIADMK-backed union, besides some others, had not participated in the protests. The unions had called off the strike on January 11 after the Madras High Court appointed an arbitrator to settle their wage dispute with the government.