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Manjum Mahanta and Mrinmoy Buragohain
Date of Publish: 2016-06-17

From 20 buses to 205 buses, the Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT) of Guwahati has grown in strength over the past eight years connecting all the state capitals of India’s Northeast and other parts of the region by road. Following improvement of railway services in the region a large chunk of passengers now prefer train journey. However, for many commuters in the region a journey by bus is still the most favourite mode of travel.

It started functioning from the 8th of December, 2006. The project, financed by North Eastern Council had a total cost of about 36 crore rupees and took about 8 years to complete. The ISBT functions under a Senior Divisional Superintendent, Mr. S. Prasad Sharma. A total of about 205 buses (34 ASTC buses, 41 under ASTC service and 120 to 130 private buses). Initially, only about 20 inter-state buses were operating from ISBT. From 2008, intra-district and inter-district services started from the ISBT. The city bus service falls under the local service division.

The ISBT has two wings; the left wing serves as platform to ASTC and under ASTC whereas the right wing serves the private buses. For the convenience of passengers and staff, there are 2 canteens (one AC and one non-AC) along with 16 kiosks, along the two wings of ISBT. Refresho, the air conditioned restaurant at ISBT, was opened on Saraswati Puja this year.

Bhaskar Swargiary, a shopkeeper who originates from Nalbari, says that customers have decreased in the recent days. The reason is the decline in the number of passengers in the Silchar line due to railway service to those regions. Another shopkeeper, Ajay Boro says that chips, biscuits and water are the highest sellers. “People rarely go for bakery items and hence we have stopped having them in our shop.” The usual timings of the kiosks is from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm. A few provides service as early as 4:00 am.

There are a total of 40 counters to facilitate the sale and purchase of tickets. Purna Boro and Pinku Ali, who run a counter at ISBT, says that though more people travel towards upper Assam there is no average in the sale of tickets. “Number of passengers have decreased due to train services” they added. They also said that bus fares have no relation with the ever changing fuel price; bus fares increase or decrease only when the government officials provide them with bus fare charts.

Contradicting Purna and Pinku, Babul says that the train services have not been able to affect the sales in his counter. He has an average of 30-35 passengers in his counter every day. Tinsukia and Dibrugarh tickets are the highest sellers and Bihu is the peak time for sales. ‘Tripura line sees the highest number of passengers as train services to Tripura is erratic and remains disrupted. Whereas in the other routes, there has been an yearly decrease in the number of passengers. When we began our service at ISBT, there were very few trains but right now there are many. Also during summer, passengers are less. Bihu/Puja is the best time for us” says Ahmed, another service provider. Mr. Subhash Sud, who is in charge of the APST (Arunachal Pradesh State Transport) service at ISBT says that March and April sees the maximum number of passengers and the number of passengers have undoubtedly decreased with the introduction of new trains.

Saif Ali, of the Coochbehar and Siliguri line, says that the number of passengers are never fixed. “Our buses are running on goods and not on passengers. We rarely have more than 15 passengers these days. There are more trains now and a poor family always looks for a cheaper mode. Travelling by train will cost you 250-300 rupees, up and down, whereas by bus one has to shell out 1500-2000 rupees. June to September is off season. After that until April is good” he adds.

Purna Gogoi, who works at an under ASTC service, says : "Earlier we had very good ticket sale in the Lakhimpur route, but now it is very less. Presently we get more passengers in the Jorhat and Sivasagar route.”

Manager of Pooja Service Niraj Chandra Pathak, said that the train services have affected their sales as there are only 60-70 passengers for Silchar route now.

After about six months the ISBT became fully operational, a police outpost was established in July, 2007 for the safety and security of the passengers. Presently, the outpost has a staff strength of 18, which includes eight home guards. There are additional security guards appointed by ASTC through Commercial Security Bureau (CSB). CSB has a staff strength of 33.

CCTVs were installed recently about two months ago for public safety. Kalyan Buragohain, a CSB guard who is posted at the out gate of ISBT says “I have been here since the ISBT started operating. "There were less than 50 buses in the beginning but now, about 200 buses go out through this gate every day. Private buses have to pay a parking fee of Rs 200 whereas under ASTC buses have to submit the passes provided to them by the office every day. ASTC buses do not have to pay anything. Passengers have decreased but not to a great extent,” he said. According to the passengers, ISBT is a connecting link amongst varied common man. In the canteens and restaurants, a person from Itanagar as well as another from Siliguri sit together to have a meal. A passenger who tarvels regularly from Nalbari to Golaghat says “I travel mostly from ISBT. If not from ISBT, I get into a bus from Khanapara but I always travel by bus, run by ASTC or private operators.

Fahim Sayed, a student of Tezpur University said: “I always travel by the 1pm ASTC bus, it reaches on time and does not stop everywhere on the way. Other services takes more time.” Pranab, another passenger travelling to Jorhat says “I travel almost on a daily basis. It was better earlier when the buses used to go to Paltanbazar as there were hotels nearby.”

In both the wings, every bus service is assigned a unique bay number where they are parked everyday for the convenience of passengers. Passengers and staff sometimes enjoy a movie or cricket match together.

Lack of drivers’ rest room for the staff of private buses compels them to sleep in the underbody storage compartment of the buses.

There is also a lack of proper rest room for passengers.

ISBT not only provides livelihood to the permanent staff which include officials, shopkeepers and bus staff but also to small scale businessmen such as fruit sellers, chaanawalas, nearby pan shop owners, ice-cream sellers, auto rickshaw drivers, barbers, etc.

The IOC fuel station near to ISBT is also run by ASTC.

ISBT in all its dimensions is a true service provider. Along with it, it is the second home to a lot of people such as the shopkeepers, guards etc. They are emotionally attached to it. Also, hundreds of stories flow in and out of this place along with diverse families passing through this important yet less talked about place of the state.

Please click the following link for a video- ISBT Guwahati- Connecting destinations in Northeast.

Manjum Mahanta and Mrinmoy Buragohain

( Manjum Mahanta and Mrinmoy Buragohain are pursuing M.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism at Tezpur University. This photo essay has been produced as part of internship at nezine.com )

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