New Delhi: For 39-year-old house help Sunita, work opportunities were limited to her area as she could not afford travelling even in the public transport, but Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's announcement of free travel for women in public buses came as a relief because now she can travel to the nearby areas without spending money.
"I stay in Mayur Vihar and was till now working as a house help in the nearby residences. While my friends who can afford travelling used to get more money by working in the flats. I tried working there earlier as well but the walking used to exhaust me. Now, I use the bus for travelling and go to the flats for work. I am now paid more, and I also don't have to invest in travelling," she said flaunting her pink ticket.
She said her husband died two years back and now she has the responsibility of running the house, having two sons and her parents-in-law.
Sunita was among the numerous women who used to avoid going far away from their homes as the travel expense was unaffordable.
On October 29, Kejriwal had made the travel free for women in all DTC and cluster buses. When a woman boards a bus, she can buy a ticket, if she wishes to. Otherwise, the conductor gives a pink ticket to her free of cost.
Kejriwal said it was one of the most famous schemes of his government.
"The Delhi government has initiated the free-ridership scheme for women in its buses. When we started this scheme, some opposed the scheme arguing it is against gender equality. I have asked this time and again, does India even have gender equality to begin with?
"Do women get equal opportunities and respect in our country? The working population of Delhi entails only 11 per cent of women and 89 per cent of men. 33 per cent of women travel via public transportation and 67 per cent of men travel. 30 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men travel in DTC buses. Can we say that women get equal rights in the country?"
He said after the scheme, the women ridership has now reached 42 per cent from 30 per cent.
The percentage of women travellers was calculated by counting the issued pink tickets, also known as the single-journey passes.
While most of the women hailed the scheme, some also suggested improvements.
"This is helping us in several ways. If I talk about myself, I will be saving close to Rs 2,500 per month under the scheme. However, last-mile connectivity is still a major concern," said 26-year-old Sandhya Sahu who needs to take an auto to reach her office, which is three kilometres from the nearest bus stop.
She said earlier she used to take the metro to reach her office in Karol Bagh and after the scheme, she switched to the bus as it was free.
College-going Madhu Singh demanded that the frequency of buses should be improved.
"Being a student, I need to focus on my studies and standing in the bus stop for close to 40-50 minutes is just a waste of time. Also, during the late evening, I don't feel safe standing at the bus stop for long as it is mostly deserted," said the Mayur Vihar Phase-1 resident.
Although, she added that she feels safe in the buses.
"I also noticed that there are police on every bus. This has made a drastic change in men's attitude towards us. I will say this is a happy change to see. Also, there are more women in the buses and it feels good," she added.
The Kejriwal government had also announced that there will be a bus marshal in each bus to deal with any misbehaviour with women inside the bus.
While the opposition had called the step an election stunt, the women in the national capital seem to be happy with the scheme.
When asked from 48-year-old Snehlata if she feels it was an election stunt, she said she enjoys the free rides and if anything is benefiting people, it doesn't matter if it is an election 'stunt'.
"Even if it was an election stunt, I never saw any government spending so much on women and to ensure their security. It is good that they (AAP) are not saying that each one will get a mobile, TV or laptop after elections. They have done it before the elections. I don't see any harm in what the Aam Aadmi Party is doing."
The tenure of the Kejriwal government is ending in February 2020.