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Talking About The Shakti Scheme- Free Bus Rides For Women in Karnataka- Part 1

The attention of the teens at the Young Writers' Club was brought to a recently introduced scheme in Karnataka and together we explored the bigger picture.


History has evidence to support the fact that easy access to transport has led to women empowerment, enabling them to become independent, go to work and do much more. Starting with the suffrage movement being made possible by cycles to bringing more income to their households in the 21st century, easy mode of transport has played an instrumental role in shaping the lives of countless women in India and across the world. In this backdrop, the newly introduced Shakti scheme strives to achieve the same effect. Before Karnataka, Delhi and Tamil Nadu have already introduced this scheme.


Initial reactions from the group

Gender equality at stake?

At first there was silence for a bit. I half expected cheer but decided to wait for the moment of silence to pass. There was evidently something brewing. One of the teens raised the aspect of gender biased discrimination. It may be argued that allowing free rides only for women is discriminating against men. Why not give men the same privilege? Interestingly, the rest agreed with this point of view. It was heartwarming to know that this group is against any form of discrimination and believes in fair chance for all.

How about free rides for college going students?

Another teen suggested, "Both men and women studying in colleges could be given free bus passes, another way to motivate people to get educated. In order to prevent foul play of any sort and effective implementation, she went on to suggest that student ID cards must be checked to ensure that only the eligible avail of this facility." This approach narrows down the beneficiaries and possibly reduces the load on the bus conductor to check ‘n’ number of Aadhaar cards to check the residential status of the women. In Karnataka, women residing anywhere in the state alone can avail unlimited bus rides. Hence the need to display Aadhaar cards.

What about people who are economically backward and could benefit from free bus rides?

As a facilitator, I raised the question of the objective behind these schemes and suggested that people below a certain income level, alone must be allowed to avail of free bus rides. Following news articles, we learnt that the scheme being open to all women residents of Karnataka resulted in lakhs of women making use of the free bus service. Just three days after the introduction of the scheme, the cost to the exchequer stood at Rs.21 crores. That’s a drain on the public exchequer keeping in mind that many of the beneficiaries could be well off and fully capable of paying their bus fares.


The group disagreed with this policy suggestion. Some felt that it is awkward and embarrassing to check someone’s income levels each time they get into the bus. Others pointed out that it is not a practical solution. There is no way to make sure that the information shared is genuine and there is plenty of room for foul play. Worse, this could lead to a bigger drain on the public exchequer.


Why give free rides at all?

The discussion took an interesting turn when a teen pointed out that running a bus service costs money. There are salaries to be paid, the buses need to be maintained and the fuel costs are for ever increasing. The group agreed that in this backdrop, giving free rides to all women residing in Karnataka could only be a strain on the state finances. In this context, as a facilitator, the news of private bus services getting affected in the process, was introduced. Private bus service providers obviously cannot compete with this scheme and in the process loosing out on female customers.


Could there be a better route to a win win situation in which women have more opportunities for empowerment and respect, lesser drain on the state’s finances and assured business for others such as private bus services that have much at stake?


The Shakti scheme is a fine example of a policy measure that has many perspectives to ponder about. It is difficult to devise a policy measure that acts as a blanket solution for all of society’s problems. If there is a beneficiary, some one loses. Is there a way balance it out and ensure that in the end the losses are minimised if not completely eliminated? Stay tuned to find out what the teens at the Young Writers’ Club come up with, next week.


To ponder about until then…
Could there be a better route to a win win situation in which women have more opportunities for empowerment and respect, lesser drain on the state’s finances and assured business for others such as private inter state bus services that have much at stake?

 

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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-12 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 13-15 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.


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