Mandi BahauddinSHER GONDAL 

The general bus stand of Mandi Bahauddin is supposed to be run by the Tehsil Municipal Administration but in fact it is being controlled by the transport mafia, it is learnt.The mafia comprising politically strong persons of the area has divided the general bus stand into different sub-stands from where public service vehicles proceed towards different destinations. The destinations include Lahore, Faisalabad, Vehari, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Mirpur (AJK), Jhelum, Gujrat, Pind Dadin Khan, Malikwal, Phalia, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Sargodha, Alipur Chattha and various intra-district towns and villages. More than 1,000 such vehicles operate from this stand. The agents of transport mafia charge each van more than Rs150 when it leaves the stand carrying passengers. They also take Rs1,200 per vehicle per month for providing the drivers protection/exemption en-route against police and other government agencies responsible for checking vehicles. In addition, the TMA receives Rs30 per vehicle for each trip for using the facility. Majority of the vehicles are petrol and gas-powered. Often these vehicles are filled with compact natural gas as it is cheaper. Drivers have removed petrol fuel tanks from the vehicles and when gas is not available, they use plastic cans as fuel tank. The plastic cans are placed inside the vehicle and connected with carburetor through plastic pipes. This system is threatening to the passengers’ lives. The freight charges are fixed by local administration on the basis of petrol and diesel rates but the mafia does not adhere to these charges. They overcharge the passengers and when vehicle is switched to petrol, they further increase fares at their will. No ticket is issued to passengers. In addition, the vehicles plying on the roads are overloaded and the drivers place wooden stools in the vehicles to accommodate more passengers. Most of the vehicles do not carry fitness certificates issued by the vehicle examiner. Similarly, gas cylinders fitted in the vehicles are not tested regularly. The stand has no facilities like waiting rooms, latrines and potable water. The transport mafia collects millions of rupees a month but the amount is being embezzled. Nothing out of it is spent to facilitate the passengers. After tragic incident of van fire at Mangowal in Gujrat district which claimed 19 lives of schoolchildren along with a brave lady teacher, Mandi Bahauddin police started a crackdown against unfit vehicles. Most of the vehicles have gone off the road to escape legal action. However, a team of OGRA arrived in the district and established camps at different petrol stations. Reportedly, they collect Rs2,000 to 2,500 from owner of each vehicle and issued them with tokens to paste on the vehicle as proof of fitness of gas cylinder. A driver said that checking of cylinder is not done appropriately. Passengers complain that train was a comfortable, respectable and cheap mode of transportation but it has been snatched from them due to the poor management of the Railway authorities and negligence of past successive governments. They said that public transport is in bad shape and they have no better choice for travelling. They said that transporters misbehave with passengers when they protest against overcharging. They urged the government to take a notice of their plight and reform public transport system. They also demanded that extortion on the GBS should be stopped and a strict action be taken against drivers who overload vehicles and overcharge passengers.