The Punjab government’s decision to take Orbit bus services off its roads should be welcomed, although the reasons, some suspect, could be more to do with political compulsions. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday had passed an order against his family-run company in the wake of the molestation and death of a Dalit teenage girl after she was pushed out of one its vehicles. The order came down as the stalemate between state authorities and the family of the teenage girl continued.
Family members of the victim have refused to perform her last rites, pending action against the owners of the vehicle. To cement their position on the matter, the girl’s family members had refused to conduct her final funeral rites, despite the government’s decision to present an Rs 20 lakh compensation package. 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.
Coming back to the incident, a teenage girl died and her mother was seriously injured last week 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. The incident in Moga is reminiscent of the horrific rape that occurred within the confines of an Uber taxi in the national capital. Going by past precedents, especially in light of the Centre’s actions against Uber, the State government has suspended Orbit’s operations. Although the police have arrested three people allegedly involved in this incident, curiously, they have not questioned the owners.
The political backlash, however, could also stem from 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.