In some good news, finally, the city will once again see an increase in the number of double-decker buses that has dropped to 48 which once stood at 120 buses. In fact, Mumbai will experience an upgrade as the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) Committee, on Tuesday for the first time, approved inducting 900 air-conditioned double-decker electric buses on wet lease. However, the circumstances behind this is a tug-of-war behind Shiv Sena ruled BEST Undertaking and BJP as the opposition party on the other side of the rope.

First the good news

On January 25, the BEST Committee approved getting 900 AC Double Decker e-buses, which as per previous plans were 200 such double-decker buses. According to BEST officials, there were four bus manufacturers who had come forth and shown interest in bringing a fleet of 200 double-decker AC buses. In fact, BEST officials said that as per initial plans, the Undertaking was supposed to procure these double-decker buses rather than getting them on wet-lease.

The sudden jump in numbers to 900 AC Double Decker e-buses, which is 4.5 times more than the earlier plan, happened on Tuesday. “These 900 buses will be inducted on wet-lease for a period of 12 years. We expect the first batch of these buses to start coming in by this year-end,” said a BEST official.

Initially, the BEST had made plans of adding 2100 AC e-buses that included 200 AC e-double decker buses. By March 2023, the BEST proposed to have 50 per cent of their fleet to be electric and by March 2027 their entire bus fleet will become electric. The BEST intends to add 1400 single-decker AC e-buses, 400 midi AC e-buses, and 100 mini AC e-buses as well to their fleet.

However, before the approval for these 900 AC e-double decker buses, there were sparks that flew between the Shiv Sena and BJP. The arguments happened namely on two basic grounds; the first being that the BEST Undertaking had initially proposed to procure 200 AC e-double decker buses through funding from the Ministry of Heavy Industries for which tenders were called.

But then for some reason fund provision for e-double decker AC buses haven’t been finalized. “We demanded that the tender be cancelled and re-tendering to be done. However out of nowhere they announced getting 900 AC e-double decker buses on wet-lease without any clarity on its funding, expenses are borne by BEST and other details that aren’t mentioned in the tender,” said Sunil Ganacharya, BJP leader and BEST Committee member.

The BJP questioned the scope of procurement, and how it got merged with the Maharashtra government’s scheme on clean energy without it being mentioned in the tender document. “We will be getting funds under the scheme from the state government for over Rs 925 crore. The lowest bidder has promised to get it running at Rs 56 per kilometre. The BJP is unnecessary creating trouble in this proposal which will benefit Mumbai,” said Ashish Chemburkar, Chairman, BEST Committee.

Sources said that the four bus manufacturers quoted for these AC e-double decker buses from the lowest at Rs 56 per km to the highest at more than Rs 160 per km. Sources said that the second bidder was asked if they agree to match the lowest bidder through the manufacturer allegedly refused.

Now, the BEST is likely to ask the second bidder to bring 200 AC e-double decker buses while the remaining will be introduced by the lowest bidder. The transport experts stated that it is a surprise that when single-decker AC e-buses are being operated at Rs 54-72 per km; how can such low costing possible.