Shouhardo Paribahan, the direct bus service between Kolkata and Dhaka, has come to a halt, much to the frustration of passengers across the borders.
The service, jointly run by private operators under West Bengal transport department in India and the BRTC in Bangladesh, is in a deadlock due to rivalry between two Indian brothers who take care of the Petrapol-Kolkata part.
The brothers -- Arun Kumar Ghose and Aboni Kumar Ghose -- own Shyamoli Paribahan Ltd and Shyamoli Jatri Paribahan respectively.
There have been no issues on the Bangladesh part.
The service of Shouhardo Paribahan, which was launched as a token of friendship between Bangladesh and India in 1999, was suspended on March 19 following the conflict between the two brothers.
In this situation, another bus service launched in 2015 on Kolkata-Agartala via Dhaka route also remains inoperative.
Aboni has been running the show since 1999 but recently Arun started his new venture and got the lease for Shouhardo Paribahan on the Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata route.
The lease rate for this route ranges from Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month but Arun's company paid Rs 6 lakh per bus every month to get the lease.
However, investigations have revealed that the state government of West Bengal suspended the lease on March 19 as the company failed to pay the lease money regularly. One bus could not even cross the border on that date for lacking clearance from the government.
This correspondent talked to transport department officials and workers of different tiers of both the factions of Shyamoli Paribahan and came to know that a familial conflict over the ownership was to blame for the situation.
Two buses of Shyamoli Jatri Paribahan, each worth Rs 4 crore, are lying in garage. Four drivers, eight supervisors, and 10 helpers are now jobless.
Two buses of Shyamoli Paribahan are also lying idle at the terminals.
When contacted, Aboni Ghose said, “My own brother has caused this massive damage to our family business by initiating an unhealthy competition. This commercial imbalance was created because one organisation, out of the blue, started paying Rs 6 lakh whereas the rate is Rs 1 lakh for the route.”
Contacted, Arun Kumar Ghose admitted that he did invest a huge sum to win the contract. “I thought it would bring profit but after some days, I found that this route is unprofitable,” he told this paper.
He further said that he was gradually clearing his dues through cheques.
None of the governments has made a comment over the impasse in the last two days.
One official of the West Bengal transport department, on condition of anonymity, said, they could not float tender because of the approaching national elections in India. Therefore, the service may not resume before the elections.
Although Shouhardo Paribahan has been on halt, Shyamoli Jatri Paribahan is carrying passengers on the Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka-Kolkata route.
Counter Manager of the Paribahan, Shoumik Bhowmick said, “Two buses are in operation. They are leaving Kolkata and going to Dhaka via Khulna every day. Passengers are not being charged extra for that.”
“This has triggered anger among passengers and we are regularly facing the wrath,” added Bhowmick.
One passenger of the route, Sujan Chowdhury, said, “It is surprising that the service on this international route is not available. The government must look into it.”
The Daily Star has learnt that both Shyamoli Private Ltd and Shyamoli Jatri Paribahan are owned by Indian nationals. They are implementing the agreement as “passenger carriers” of India.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and West Bengal Transport Corporation implemented the lease.
As per the agreement, the private companies operating under these agencies get leases from respective countries. Therefore, they pay the license fees to the respective governments.
The two buses on Dhaka-Kolkata route operate three days a week. Shyamoli Jatri Paribahan is running two buses on the Kolkata-Khulna-Dhaka-Kolkata route. About 160 passengers regularly travel on the route. Some 60 passengers on the Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala route daily.