The Congress government in Karnataka on Sunday rolled out its first of the five poll guarantees, the ‘Shakti’ scheme, which offers free travel to women and transgender people in government-run buses in the state.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar and transport minister Ramalinga Reddy launched the scheme and issued smart cards to five beneficiaries at an event on the steps of the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru.
The five women were handed replicas of the smart cards that would be issued to women passengers in the next three months.
The chief minister also took on the role of a bus conductor and issued free tickets to women passengers at the Majestic bus station, and to those travelling from Bengaluru to Dharmasthala on Sunday. Meanwhile, the district in-charge ministers and legislators simultaneously launched the scheme in their respective districts and constituencies, with some of them taking the role of a conductor as well.
According to officials, the free travel service will benefit over 41.8 lakh women passengers every day and would cost the state exchequer an estimated ₹4,051.56 crore annually.
After taking part in the launch, CM Siddaramaiah underlined that the free bus travel is for social equality, and will benefit the minorities, women, and deprived classes.
“Women, who make up half of the society, have been exploited for centuries. Minorities and women are deprived of opportunities. Women’s participation in the workforce is low in India compared to other countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the US,” Siddaramaiah said, as he hoped the move will boost women’s participation in the workforce.
“The BJP, which only cares for the rich, cannot bear our concern. Our aim is to alleviate the suffering of the people. The first guarantee came into effect within 20 days of taking oath and all the women have started taking advantage of it. The scheme has been launched across the state,” Siddaramaiah added.
Shivakumar said, “Women are like the eyes of a family…Women are given first priority in our culture. We have implemented this Shakti scheme as the epitome of female empowerment.”
Ramalinga Reddy, briefing people about the scheme, said that the aim is to prioritise easy and safe travel of women commuters. Reddy also said that the smart cards for free bus travel would be granted after three months. “You can apply for the smart passes within three months. Smart passes will not breach any privacy. People in rural areas can reach out to help centres for those who don’t have access to online mediums.”
Karnataka education minister Madhu Bangarappa said, “We are very happy that we are launching Shakti scheme for women of all ages. We have already started executing (the schemes) one by one. By August 15, all the schemes will be implemented. We will start delivering as we promised.”
Bangarappa also said that the Congress manifesto had promised buses for children. “I have got 1.2 crore children up to 12th standard. I want them to avail this service. In our manifesto, we had promised this. We will be adding more buses. Our target is 15,000 buses. We want them to avail all facilities,” the Education Minister said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter and asserted that the party has fulfilled its commitment. “Free bus travel for every woman in Karnataka from today – Another guarantee fulfilled! Empowerment of women and economic savings – Congress government will fulfil our responsibility, their right,” he tweeted. .
The Shakti scheme is available for women and transgender persons, who are domicile of Karnataka. They will be able to travel in general and express services operated by the RTCs. The windscreens of city, ordinary, and express buses run by the state’s four road transport corporations (KSRTC, BMTC, NWKRTC, and KKRTC) will have “Free travel for women” labels placed on them.
Women can apply for the Shakti Smart Card by registering on the ‘Seva Sindhu’ government portal. Until the cards are issued, women who would like avail the free travel benefit must carry a government photo ID card with their residential address on it.
The Shakti scheme applies only to the ordinary state-run bus services of Karnataka. Airavat, Airavat Club Class, Airavat Gold Class, Ambari, Ambari Dream Class, Ambari Utsav, Fly Bus, Vayu Vajra, Vajra, Non-AC Sleeper, Rajahamsa and EV Power Plus AC buses are excluded from the scheme.
The government has also reserved 50% of the seats for men in all RTCs, except BMTC services.