The Story so far
On June 11, the newly-elected Congress government in Karnataka launched the first among five poll guarantees — Shakti scheme. In this scheme, women can travel for free in non-premium services of State-run buses across Karnataka.
The main purpose of this scheme is said to be to increase the work participation rate of women, and to promote public transportation in Karnataka.
What was the genesis of Shakti scheme?
The Congress announced the Shakti scheme in its manifesto for the Assembly elections in Karnataka, as part of five guarantees. The Shakti scheme, and the other guarantees, are believed to have helped the Congress win a comfortable majority in the elections, and form the government in Karnataka.
At the first meeting of the Cabinet of the newly-formed government in Karnataka on May 20, a decision was taken to implement the 5 guarantees promised to voters in the poll manifesto of the Congress party.
In the following cabinet meeting on June 2, the cabinet decided to implement all five guarantees during this financial year, starting with the Shakti scheme on June 11.
Watch | What is Karnataka’s new ‘Shakti’ scheme?
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said the scheme would benefit 50% of the population. “The Shakti scheme has brought relief to women of the State who are in distress due to price hike and inflation,” he had said. While launching the scheme, Mr Siddaramaiah had said that in India, women’s participation in the workforce is shrinking, and promoting free bus travel scheme would empower more women to join the workforce.
What are the contours of Shakti scheme?
Under this scheme, women and transgenders can travel free in non-premium services of State-run bus services across Karnataka.
The free travel scheme is restricted within the State to women who are domicile of Karnataka. They will be able to travel in general and express bus services operated by State-run Road Transport Corporations.
The State Government will issue the ‘Shakti Smart Card’ after receiving applications from women, including students, through the Seva Sindhu portal. Until then, it has asked RTCs to accept any identity card issued by the Central or State government that carries the photograph and address of the beneficiary, to issue a ‘zero ticket’ (free ticket).
The government has directed completion of issuance of smart cards within three months.
The bus services that will not be covered by the Shakti scheme are Rajahamsa, non-AC sleeper, Vajra, Vayu Vajra, Airavatha, Airavatha Club Class, Airavatha Gold Class, Ambaari, Ambaari Dream Class, Ambaari Utsav, Fly Bus, EV Power Class .
The government has reserved 50% of the seats for men in the services in which women are eligible to avail free travel, except Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) services.
How many people will benefit from Shakti scheme?
The scheme is expected to benefit 41.81 lakh women (including 11.58 lakh passholders), according to a statement by the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC).
The RTCs met the estimated target of beneficiaries on June 12, the first weekday the scheme was operational. A total of 41.34 lakh women travelled free in RTC buses on June 12. The cost to the State exchequer was ₹8.84 crore.
On June 13, the Transport Department’s maximum estimate of free ridership for a day under the Shakti scheme was breached, with over 51.52 lakh women boarding State-run road transport corporation (RTC) buses, which was the third day of implementation of this welfare programme.
The total value of the free tickets on the third day was is ₹10.82 crore, and the cumulative cost for three days was ₹21.05 crore. On all three days, Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation recorded the highest women ridership.
How will RTCs meet Shakti scheme demand?
At present, the four RTCs operate 23,989 buses across Karnataka with an average run of 65.02 lakh kilometres per day.
Following public demand to procure more buses to successfully implement the scheme, which may make more people use buses, State-run road transport corporations that operate the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation, the BMTC, the NWKRTC, and the KKRTC plan to procure 1,894 new buses this year.
How is the cost of free travel reimbursed to RTCs?
The government has decided to reimburse the cost of free travel to the corporations based on the zero ticket, or data from Shakti smart cards. The government routinely reimburses the subsidy provided for bus passes, apart from special grants and financial assistance. The government has reimbursed ₹3,606.52 crore to the four corporations from April 2022 to March 2023.
How have private bus operators reacted to the Shakti scheme?
Private bus operators have been affected by the Shakti scheme, especially in Malnad, coastal and old Mysuru region districts where private buses have been dominating the public transport sector in rural areas.
Private buses operate on several busy routes, including Shivamogga-Chitradurga, Shivamogga-Davangere, Shivamogga-Sagar, and Shivamogga-Chikkamagaluru, where they compete with services of the KSRTC.
Rangappa R., president of Private Bus Owners’ Association in Shivamogga, said, “We will suffer huge losses on these routes once the free bus facility comes into effect. Why will women passengers travel in our buses when travelling by KSRTC is free of charge?”
In Dakshina Kannada district, more than 400 buses are run by private operators, and 68 buses are operated in rural areas on contract carriage basis. Dakshina Kannada District City Bus Owners’ Association is planning to submit a memorandum to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah requesting relief in the form of diesel subsidy.
What do transport activists say about the Shakti scheme?
Activists argue that the rule to get a smart card to avail the free bus scheme is a huge entry barrier for women.
Vinay K. Sreenivasa, member of Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), said, “The scheme is radical, and has transformatory potential. But, guidelines say all women bus users will need to apply on Seva Sindhu portal for a smart card. This is a huge entry barrier for women. It’s not needed and is unacceptable. This scheme is supposed to be especially for those who cannot afford to travel by bus, and those who face restrictions at home. It’s not easy for a single woman, from a BPL household, in a village, to apply on Seva Sindhu portal. Also, can the government issue up to 3 crore cards in three months?”
Citing a similar scheme in Delhi, Mr Sreenivasa said, “In Delhi, they track numbers by issuing a ticket of a different colour. Why can’t we do that? Why demand ID proof or smart card, and why impose restrictions of domicile?”.
What is fare-free public transport concept?
The Fare-Free Public Transport (FFPT) has been adopted in many countries and by various States in India. Australia and certain pockets of the U.S., among others, experimented with the concept for many years.
In India, many States have rolled out the measure partially to certain sections of the population, such as senior citizens, disabled persons, women, transgenders, minors, people working in public service sectors, and for journalists.
In 2021, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin announced free travel for women on basic-fare government buses.
In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal implemented free bus services for women in Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses.
In Punjab, woman can travel free-of-cost in all government-owned buses, including Punjab Roadways Transport Corporation (PRTC), Punjab Roadways Buses (PUNBUS), and city bus services operated by local bodies.