Film on the ST bus,the lifeline of people

Santoshee Mishra film Laal Pari

Maharashtra’s politicians have betrayed the masses on a massive scale . But one good decisions taken by the government before the recent filthy politics is that it introduced 50 per cent concession in fares for women on State Transport buses.

It needs to do more for promoting public transport. Making a documentary film would be one good measure, it has not taken. Luckily, a woman journalist and documentary film maker Santoshee Mishra has done that with a film called ‘Laal Pari’, literally red fairy.

These red buses called Lal Pari are at the bottom of the hierarchy in the ST bus system in terms of style and comfort but they are the lifeline for rural Maharashtra, they have played an important role in uplifting rural economy, helping girls acquire education, giving them access to health care and other basic needs and helping so many other sections.

The film focusses mainly on tribal areas in two districts, Amravati including its tiger reserve areas of Melghat, and Nandurbar bordering Gujarat with winding, narrow roads .

It is a good, much needed film. One only hopes we can have another film with a larger canvas. The real story of state transport buses in Maharashtra is one of big let downs by politicians. They have dragged the once pioneer and proud service in the country down. Nothing shows their utter contempt for common people than this neglect. Look at the service in the southern states particularly, how well they maintain their bus stands and depots. A little imaginative handling in Maharashtra could make the bus stations into good public spaces. But our politicians cannot think beyond handing over large spaces of these depots to developers for their benefit.

The real point many people don’t see is that some of the corrupt politicians view the public and its genuine demands as a nuisance. During an election campaign when one villager raised a point about inadequate water, a powerful candidate almost had him put under arrest . People not voting for him are threatened with cutting off of water supply.

Despite all the neglect by politicians, the ST bs service is still far better in many ways than in the private sector . Usually, the buses are very punctual and far more reliable. However, because of extremely false values of status some people prefer private bus transport.

Santoshee’s film was screened at the Press club in Mumbai on July 14 and was followed by a panel discussion. Interestingly, the best points for improving public transport came from Prasanna Patwardhan, a big private bus fleet operator who has studied the issue with some passion.

He said the ST had been rendered into an ICU state, its importance was ignored. He also suggested that 25 per cent of the budget on roads should be earmarked for improving public transport.

As observers have pointed out our politicians, bureaucrats and engineers instead of doing any good are devastating the countryside by cutting down shady trees on roadsides.

Among other speakers were Mr Shekhar Channe, managing director of MSRTC, Prakash Joshi, senior journalist and painter, Avinash Das, web series film maker.

The Metro with all its bombast in Mumbai claims to be connecting the unconnected but here is a bus service that is doing it for decades.The Metro’s claim is also outrageously false because the BEST bus service does connect different corners and if it is given more freedom and even a fraction of the money given to Metro, it will achieve miracles.

The government is squandering thousands of crores of rupees on the Metro railway system but it has little money to spare for low cost bus transport . Buses carry lakhs of people while the new Metro lines in Mumbai carry only a few thousand commuters.

Extremely dubious claims are being made in the gullible media about the environmental benefits of Metro.A wretched video was in circulation four years ago. It claims that the Metro will for all times and in a jiffy solve Mumbai’s traffic problems. It is endorsed by Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar, who it seems will do anything for money. Earlier they sold us dreams by building a sealink and flyovers. In the process, they neglected public transport and only made life miserable for every one. Unwittingly, the government admits this with strong visuals.

The film is all about massive traffic jams. Every one is stuck in a jam for such a long time that the rich have enough time to have a party on the road amidst all the chaos.

Mind you there is no reference to the poor being inconvenienced by the jam at all, though they are the main victims. You do not see a single ordinary human being. All you see are cars stuck in a jam and the rich having fun.

The solution then, it is claimed, is the metro railway will solve all the problems and Mumbai can be reached within minutes. There is a constant refrain by a woman representing the rich saying – give back to me my lost time, lost in traffic jams.What about the robbery of time of millions of toiling people that has taken place all these years. And many of them will not be able to afford the Metro fares.

The video is a completely false representation on various counts. The ad says there will be 340 km of metro network. True but it will take years and the network is too spread out to provide easy access. This is unlike London and other cities where there is a dense network of underground or tube rail. In London there is a Metro station every 500 metres

This is far from the case in Mumbai city and the larger region beyond. In Mumbai the proposed Metro stations are too few, too far apart.

One blunder of imposing mass motorization and completely neglecting public transport , a blunder committed by the government, is sought to be corrected by a far from effective technological solution.

Vidydhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport

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