In an unfortunate incident, a teenage girl died and her mother was seriously injured on Wednesday after they were harassed and forced to jump out of a moving bus in Moga, Punjab. As per news reports the incident occurred in an Orbit bus service vehicle, making it a part of the fleet that is part-owned by the family that runs the Punjab state government. According to a Chandigarh-based daily, the Badals have direct ownership of 80 private buses that come under three companies; namely, Orbit, Dabwali and Baaz. The hue and cry surrounding the incident stems from two perspectives.
First, the incident in Moga is reminiscent of the horrific rape that occurred within the confines of an Uber taxi in the national capital. According to news reports the mother-daughter duo were forced to jump out of a moving bus after they were subjected to molestation and verbal harassment, despite prior cries for help from the bus driver and conductor. In fact the bus conductor joined the miscreants in harassing the two women, with the driver refusing to stop the vehicle, despite repeated pleas. Going by past precedents, especially in light of the Centre’s actions against Uber, by the same logic the State government must suspend Orbit’s operations. Although the police have arrested three people allegedly involved in this incident, curiously, they have not questioned the owners . Similar to the pleas made in the aftermath of the Uber rape incident, owners of the Orbit bus service must be held accountable for not conducting thorough screening processes for its drivers and conductors.
The second issue to emerge out of the incident is the clear conflict of interest that currently exists. The State government under Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is responsible for the financial well-being of the State-run public transport units. Reports, however, suggest that they control a large share of the ever-expanding private bus service too. Although there is nothing wrong with the entry of private players in the transport sector, a conflict of interest has emerged out of the above case, since the state’s transport policy has been tailored to benefit private operators. The State government, under the stewardship of the Badals, must come clean on the issue and act against the errant bus service. The political backlash from the above incident could hit the Badal family hard, especially with assembly elections coming up next year. Allegations of corruption and its inability to control the drug racket in the state have dogged them in recent months. It was only a few months ago that Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, a close aide of Badal family, was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in relation to a Rs 6000-crore international drug racket.