The hullabaloo of undertaking an ASTC journey

Thursday, 25 February 2021



The hullabaloo of undertaking an ASTC journey

Bondita Baruah | September 18, 2018 12:13 hrs

Founded in 1948 as the Transport provider of Assam and baptised as a Corporation in 1970, the Assam State Transport Corporation (ASTC) is one of the major public sector revenue generating services of the state of Assam. The statistical figures of ASTC are impressive; it employs over 5,000 people. Bus services include day and night fleets as well as city buses, aggregating to more than 1,500 in number. 

Over 14,000 passengers commute everyday covering an overall distance of more than 67,000 kms. The longest route operational under ASTC is to and from Guwahati - Lekhapani, that is 670 kms. 

One vital motto of ASTC is to provide time bound journey at affordable cost. Over the years infrastructural facilities have also improved. Special Volvo services have come to be operational; PPP (public private partnership) has been initiated to gain comforts of travel. An additional feature announced in January this year has been that of premium Volvo B8R biaxle and Volvo B11R multiaxle coaches. 

While the statistical input of upgrading the transportation sector has been praiseworthy and the picture appears rosy, the ground realities urge the need for renovation of some basic facilities. ASTC’s office at Paltan Bazar, Guwahati, is the main hub for most people procuring tickets and tending to the many counters for queries regarding their journeys to their respective destinations. As per sources, approximately 14,000 passengers are bound in fleet on a daily basis. Although repair and renovation are seen to be in progress at Paltan Bazar, the maintenance of the entire compound is a virtually casual affair. There is litter right from the entrance to the exit, which challenges the notion of hygiene in the area. Dearth of cleanliness is a visible factor within the premises of ASTC. 

A noticeable difference in hygiene is also discernible between ASTC buses and private buses that operate ‘under’ ASTC. While the charges for day and night services of both the ASTC and private buses are the same, it is observed that ASTC buses are low in maintenance, unclean, with soiled curtains; some having muddy looking seat covers bearing testimony of being unwashed for a long time and some display splutter of betel nut inside the buses or on window panes. Unhygienic conditions as these are hardly spared a serious thought and the lack of dedication on the part of those entrusted with maintenance responsibilities further deteriorates the condition of the buses. Most private buses on the contrary, are clean and tidily kept.

For the convenience of passengers using day and night services, ASTC arranges for connecting buses to the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) from where the scheduled buses leave for the designated journeys. Paltan Bazar being a congested area makes it difficult for the bigger buses to operate from there; as such the connecting buses are provided. Since passengers board the main buses from different locations such as Paltan Bazar, ISBT, Khanapara and so on, therefore for about four buses embarking on the main journey, one connecting bus is coordinated from the Paltan Bazar depot. Everyday such connecting buses make regular trips to the ISBT and are supposed to help passengers comfortably reach this destination. The starting point being Paltan Bazar, only passengers having an ASTC or under-ASTC ticket are supposed to board these buses. While passengers of ASTC are not charged any fare, passengers with tickets of private buses are charged a minimal fare of Rs 15. 

The journey begins from Paltan Bazar and is routed through Nepali Mandir stop, Rehabari, Beltola Chariali, Lokhra, NH 27, on to ISBT. Presuming if a bus starts at 7.30 PM from the Paltan Bazar depot, it should reach ISBT by 8.15 PM, which is the maximum time required, despite traffic at certain points.

Interestingly, the hullaballoo is created by those appointed by ASTC for checking tickets or collecting fares from the boarders of private tickets. As directed to the passengers, the time of departure of these connecting buses is almost always accurate. However, this accuracy is maintained to ensure that passengers reach ISBT on time. It is for the ones who would be picked on the way; these people have a fairly good idea of when the connecting buses leave the depot. So every day the connecting buses leave with passengers at their specific time but as soon as they leave the premises of ASTC, the connecting buses get converted to normal city buses. On an evening trip, a particular connecting bus stops at the Nepali Mandir ‘city bus stop’ for about ten minutes to collect passengers and all along the way there are passengers who would board and get down from the bus which is meant only to take passengers to the specific destination called ISBT. 

This freight of traffic in and out of the connecting buses has, over the years, grown to become a commercial business for the employees of ASTC, especially during the evenings as there is a rush amongst the general public to reach home early. The fares collected by unscrupulously boarding these short distance passengers between Paltan Bazar ASTC and ISBT are collectively shared by the driver, the one or two handymen, or any other party, if there be any. Moreover, there is no limit to the number of casual passengers that are picked. Since the purpose is only to quickly gather as much money as they can, there can be as many as 50 such passengers being stuffed into one connecting bus – way beyond the bus’s capacity and to the inconvenience of everybody. The original boarders from Paltan Bazar are ‘seated’ and the passengers who get on the way ‘stand’ in the bus for the duration of their respective journeys. In such a commotion, if activities of theft or robbery are to take place, who would be held responsible or who would take the blame for it? Moreover, the luggage of the long distance travellers is at great risk since most of the time they carry valuables in the journey. Such luggage is not allowed to be kept near the passengers; rather it is deposited at the bus driver’s box so that more passengers can be stuffed on the way. The luggage of a person who is seated at the back can easily be lifted by a reprobate without anybody’s discern. 

This connecting trip thus becomes a very time consuming affair. So a bus that starts at 7.30 PM and is supposed to reach the ISBT at 8.15 PM, reaches only by 9 PM. When the handyman is charged for being late or for taking on casual passengers, he turns a deaf ear. Passengers naïve enough who are unaccustomed to this private money minting process at the cost of their inconvenience and time, usually run into a state of panic for getting late.

Another issue that awaits these passengers on arrival at ISBT is that the main bus is already delayed by a specific amount of time and is in a hurry to leave the depot. As a result, the passengers who have made this already tiresome journey on the connecting bus do not get even a few minutes for refreshments before embarking on the longer journey. 

To top this, the toilet on one wing of the ISBT, which is the hub of buses journeying within Assam and the entire north east, has been under a process of reconstruction/restoration/renovation for more than six months now. A person having to answer nature’s call has to rush to the other wing of the depot where the toilet is situated at the extreme end, while being caught in the dilemma of whether he or she would manage to board the designated bus on time or be stranded at the ISBT. For a toilet to be inoperative isn’t a big issue, but in an ISBT where thousands of passengers commute everyday a toilet in one wing left in an ‘out of order’ condition for months together definitely matters, especially to old people, pregnant women, women with babies, physically handicapped and so on. 

While the transportation sector of Assam definitely looks glossy with the latest introductions to facilitate travel, the proper functioning of basic amenities and unruly performance of connecting buses too need to be addressed in the largest transportation corporation of the northeast.

The author, a guest columnist, writes about a unique and hitherto uncharted practice of ASTC bus operators while transporting passengers from its Paltan Bazar hub to the ISBT.

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