As the demand to revive the buses and bail BEST out of its debt grows louder, state industries minister Subhash Desai, who is also Mumbai’s guardian minister, has called for an urgent meeting of BMC and BEST officials on Friday.
Transport experts and political leaders have been demanding immediate steps to save the Brihanmumbai Transport and Electric Supply (BEST), the second-largest mass transport system in Mumbai after the railways.
“Guardian minister Subhash Desai has called a meeting to discuss an immediate bailout package for BEST, merging BEST’s budget with the BMC’s and converting loans given by BMC to BEST into grants,” said Anil Kokil, the chairman of BEST’s policy-making body.
Kokil said Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, BMC chief Ajoy Mehta and BEST’s general manager Surendrakumar Bagal will be at the meeting.
Mahadeshwar has also called for another meeting with group leaders of political parties in BMC to discuss BEST’s condition, including the current labour strike.
Political parties too spoke up. The Shiv Sena has asked for a Rs2,000-crore bailout package from the BMC, but the BMC is not ready to release such a package if BEST does not first put in place ways to cut down expanses.
Other prominent political parties also pointed out how BEST was an integral part of the city’s transport system and that reviving it was in the larger interest of citizens.
“BEST must survive as it is linked with the daily livelihood of people,” said city BJP chief Ashish Shelar, adding they have already raised the issue in the Assembly. Shelar also blamed the BEST administration for the current financial crisis.
All over the country, public transport modes were running in losses, Mumbai Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam said, but added that the BMC had more than Rs50, 000 crore in fixed deposits and it should save BEST by spending a small part of it.
“This is a failure of both the Shiv Sena and BJP, who have been ruling the BMC for two decades,” said Nirupam.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Sachin Ahir suggested BEST needed more autonomy, apart from financial aid from the parent body BMC. “From funds kept in its fixed deposits, the BMC should give BEST an amount for keeping in fixed deposits and run its operation through the interest,” said Ahir.
MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande said BEST and its passengers would suffer in the ongoing Sena-BJP ward. “Both the Sena and BJP lack the political will to save BEST. This is otherwise too small an issue to resolve compared to the farm loan waiver,” he said.
Deshpande, who was an ex-member of BEST Committee, suggested BEST should run small buses on loss-making routes and transfer excess staffers to BMC for reduce cost.