Kochi: The Kerala government should conduct a proper audit of the assets of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and construction works taken up by Kerala Transport Development Financial Corporation (KTDFC) on the former's land, the High Court of Kerala has ordered.
The court granted the government a month's time to decide on means to clear the KSRTC's debts and on auditing. Reminding the KSRTC management, employees and government of the corporation's bleak future, the court asked them to act accordingly.
Referring to KSRTC's submission that the salaries could be distributed by August 10 if the government helps it, the court wondered how long could the corporation could be spoon-fed.
The high court was hearing writ petitions filed against the delay in the payment of salaries to KSRTC staff.
The court noted that the KSRTC has to repay more than Rs 30 crore each month to a consortium of banks. The Rs 30-50 crore from the government has been utilised to repay the loan, the court observed.
The KSRTC should tap revenue sources other than ticket sales to stay afloat. Despite having assets such as landed property, buildings, offices and shopping centres, the corporation has not been profitably utilising them.
The court further observed that unscientific construction works contributed to the majority of the KSRTC's financial burden. The petitioners have pointed out that the buildings constructed by KTDFC do not have takers since they were of sub-standard quality.
The petitioners alleged that the government owed KSRTC a huge amount after free tickets were included in many of the government projects. The court asked the KSRTC to explain the dues.
The court directed the corporation to distribute the July salaries of ordinary employees by August 10. The court took on record the KSRTC's submission that the salaries for the month of June would be distributed by August 10.
No plans to take over KSRTC
The government, meanwhile, informed the court that it has no plans to wind up KSRTC or to make it a department under it. Additional Secretary (Transport) K S Vijashree submitted that efforts were on to increase the productivity of the corporation, and the chief minister had convened meetings to discuss the issues.
The court was also told that the KSRTC owed Rs 8,532.66 crore to the government. The COVID-19-enforced lockdown fuelled the crisis. The corporation was allotted Rs 1,739.86 crore in 2020-21, and Rs 2,037.51 crore in 2021-22.
KSRTC Swift Limited, a company incorporated by the State government, has been using 117 super-class buses procured at a cost of Rs 50 crore. Buses that could not be operated have been used for other purposes in association with Milma, Kudumbashree, and Matsyafed.
Stating that the KSRTC should meet all its expenses with the Rs 1,000 crore granted in annual Budgets, the government submitted that KSRTC-Swift was formed to rake in more revenue. Efforts have been on to trifurcate KSRTC into three regions to garner Rs 8 crore daily ticket collection.
The court was told that the employees were not cooperating with reforms being implemented to make the KSRTC profitable.
Unions pulled up
Coming down on employees' unions for not cooperating with the management, the high court observed that not a single bus could be allowed to remain idle under the current circumstances, and added that there was no alternative to employees other than joining hands with the management.
The court made the observation after considering the government's report that said the unions were still on strike mode, and as many as 700 buses have been remaining idle.
The high court reminded the employees that their services should not be only for salary. The court referred to Giri Gopinathan and Thara of Haripad KSRTC depot. The couple, working as driver and conductor on the same bus, cleans and decorates the vehicle before the daily schedule.
The court urged the employees to cooperate to ensure all roadworthy buses conducted schedules, and to meet the daily revenue target of Rs 8 crore. The court also pointed out the higher bus-to-employee ratio.
The government, meanwhile, clarified that it could not allot more grants unless the KSRTC increased its productivity.