Mumbai: The BEST undertaking — the erstwhile Bombay Tramway Company Limited, originally set up by the British in 1873 — is inching towards privatisation. Or at least, a part of it, if Uddhav Thackeray is to be believed. ‘‘There could be privatisation of a few buses but no final decision has been taken yet,” Uddhav said on Sunday, even as he underscored that they will not allow ownership of BEST to slip out of their hands.
That in turn has reinforced fears that the government wants to put all its eggs (read commuters) in one basket — that is, the Metro. Shiv Sena, which has control over the BMC and BEST for the last 30 odd years, has good reason to think of roping in private players. The undertaking is saddled with a huge loss of Rs 1200 crores, which they are not ready to absorb. Nor are they ready to upgrade the buses, so that they can complete with the AC rakes on WR and CR.
But the big looming threat is the Metro. Uddhav, while speaking at a Sthaniy Lokadhikar Samiti programme on Sunday, appealed to BEST workers to not to press unreasonable and non-practical demands. “This is not the time to blame each other. BEST is already in a financial crisis. Several schemes have been suggested to bring it out of red. If you will push unreasonable demands, the losses will mount further,” said Thackeray.
He further said, “I am ready to intervene any time. But, BEST should survive. Even if it comes to privatisation, we will only hand over a few buses. The administration will stay in our hands.” Activist Vidyadhar Date alleged that the powers that be want to hand over the transport system to private players lock, stock and barrel. That is why there are no takers for the issues of the transport undertaking.
Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray, chief of Yuva Sena, had given an assurance on merger of the budget of BEST and BMC;however, even that is on hold. Uddhav, while reiterating his pledge on Sunday, said, “I am still firm in my resolve to merge the budget. For that, we need to sit together and find out a solution. Though, the matter is the court, I am ready for a discussion.” Sunil Prabhu, former Mayor and sitting Sena legislator, had demanded in Assembly that the state should give an annual grant of Rs 3000 crore to BEST to bring it out of red.