Bus owners & operators, are taking Chhath pilgrims for quite a ride this season.
India Today TV’s special investigation team has uncovered the seasonal boom in the travel business with common people paying up to three times the usual fares-all in the name of Chhath Puja.
As the maddening rail rush of the festive season has pushed people to travel in buses so as to reach their hometowns in Bihar, our undercover reporter has captured on camera how this unholy business has sprung up this year.
A journey from Delhi to anywhere in Bihar could cost you between Rs 1,600 and Rs 3,000 this time, Rajeev Sharma of Maa Saraswati Tour and Travels told India Today.
Chhath Puja is considered to be the most popular festival in Bihar, where people worship Sun God. Elaborate arrangements have been made across the state to celebrate the four-day festival that started on Sunday.
India Today TV’s team visited the bus terminals at Mori Gate, Anand Vihar and Akshardham in Delhi, and Mayamaya Flyover in Noida. Sharma, whose bus was stationed at a terminal near Anand Vihar, said bus fares vary based on the seating arrangement.
“If two people are travelling in a sleeper coach, they will be charged Rs 3,000 each. While if three people adjust in the same sleeper coach, we charge Rs 2,200 each. There is also a provision where four people adjust in one sleeper coach at the rate of Rs 1,800 each,” he said.
When our undercover reporter asked Sharma how is it possible to fit in four people in the same coach, he replied, “It is quite normal. It is up to you to decide which coach you want to travel in.”
We came in touch with another operator Govind Kumar, who is a tour coordinator with Jagdamba Travels. What Kumar revealed was quite shocking. He said, “There are operators who accommodate even 100 people in a 48 to 50-seater bus.”
“The fare earlier was Rs 1,300 for a seat. Now, it has increased to Rs 2,000. We are charging Rs 1,600 each for a sleeper coach where we accommodate four people.
The hikes have been made due to Chhath Puja as the rush is maddening,” Kumar claimed. He said about 20-25 buses crammed with passengers have already left for Bihar on Saturday.
A passenger boarding Kumar’s bus managed to take out time to speak to us. “It is very painful to travel like this but there is no alternative. We are six people and all will have to sit throughout the journey. We will not be able to sleep,” said the 25-year-old man.
This year, the Indian Railways offered 90 special trains to cater to the huge festive rush. But it failed to contain the rush as many people were forced to take buses paying two-three times extra fares, and compromising on comfort too.
We spotted a bus by the name of Sahil Travels which was about to make a move. The sight of a family shocked us. The husband and wife, and three children, including a four-month-old baby, were packed in a sleeper cubicle meant for two persons.
Ankit Bansal of Pawan Travels added an intriguing insight. He said even the driver’s cabin are not spared from passengers who squeeze in the tiniest of the space paying Rs 1,600. “The minimum ticket is for Rs 1,600,” he said.
“We are sending four people in a sleeper coach, which has the capacity of two. We are charging Rs 2,000 each,” said Sonu of Mahalakshmi Bus Service.
Mahi Saifi, tour coordinator of Trishakti Tour & Travels, hinted at the cost escalation based on passengers rush. Saifi also opened up on the key players involved in the illegal collection of money from bus operators. “It is a large network involving state police, traffic police and the state transport department. Everybody’s share is fixed on daily and monthly basis.”
With two more days to go, passengers may have to cough up even more. Poorvanchalis constitute almost one-third of the total voters of Delhi.
Chhath Sand Art by Manisha Swarnkar, Nitin Neera Chandra & Bejod:>