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|November 10, 1998||
Bus to Lahore will take some more time
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Pakistani officials insist that Islamabad is keen to start the Delhi-Lahore bus service and it is wrong to attribute any delay to Pakistani reluctance. The delays, they insist, are of an administrative nature.
The idea of having a bus service between Delhi and Lahore was first suggested at a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharief, in New York in September.
The Delhi Transport Corporation, which will run the initial service from the Indian side, even performed a test run from Delhi up to the Pakistan border at Wagah.
The bus is not the run-of-the-mill kind that commuters in Delhi must suffer; au contraire, it is an air-conditioned vehicle with plush seats, piped music and video! Painted a bright yellow with tinted glasses, DTC officials are eager to rev up the engine and press on the gas to show off Indian class.
Not wishing to be seen as lagging behind, Pakistani officials too say they will prepare a world-class bus. "We will be using the best-quality Daewoo buses," said an official. There is also talk of road hostesses!
But somewhat embarrassed at not having matched India's pace (and eagerness), news reports say Nawaz Sharief has asked his officials to accelerate the process.
"The delay is unfortunate," said a Pakistani official. "In fact, we were so keen to start the bus service that our government had even expressed the hope that officials heading for the Indo-Pak talks [which began on November 5] would motor down to Delhi in the bus."
The Pakistanis say they are only hammering out certain details. "There are certain problems. For instance, while the agreement is between governments, the transport companies are quasi-government organisations. Then surface transport is a state subject, not a central subject. These points are being fine-tuned," said an official. "The bureaucrats are working overtime to clear the hurdles as soon as possible," he added.
Indian officials claim they are ready. The ministry of external affairs and the ministry of surface transport, which will oversee the journey, say they are only awaiting Pakistan's response.
DTC officials say they are prepared to run the bus at a day's notice. Whether private transport companies will be allowed later has not yet been decided.
The only overland link between the two neighbours right now is the Samjhauta (Compromise) Express, which runs thrice a week. The bus service will run on the days when the Express does not run. The fare is expected to be around Rs 300.
The Pakistani official was hesitant to give a time frame for the service to start. He said he expects it to begin this year itself, but was not sure if it would be within the month.
Either way, it will start at short notice. And anyone wanting to write a sequel to Khushwant Singh's hugely popular Train to Pakistan better keep his bags ready!
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