Karnataka’s Shakti Scheme completes 1 year: Over 225 crore free bus rides for women

Congress announced the scheme in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls. It launched the initiative within 25 days of coming to power.

ByMahesh M Goudar | Nolan Patrick Pinto | Deeksha Devadiga

Published Jun 11, 2024 | 10:00 AM Updated Jun 11, 2024 | 10:46 AM

Members of the Congress government in Karnataka launch the Shakti Scheme on 11 July, 2024.

Karnataka’s Shakti Scheme has significantly reshaped public transportation and women’s mobility in the state.

The scheme, launched a year ago on 11 June 2023,  allows women and transgenders to travel free of cost on state-run non-luxury buses within Karnataka.

Despite mixed public responses and operational challenges, the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has remained committed to refining and expanding the scheme. The government has plans to introduce more buses in the coming days.

The Congress announced free rides for women in state-run buses as part of its five guarantees made ahead of the 10 May 2023 elections to the Legislative Assembly. After wrestling power from the BJP, the Congress government implements the scheme within 25 days.

Celebrated for promoting women’s empowerment and reducing transportation costs, the scheme also sparked debates over its effectiveness and sustainability.

And then there is the issue of smart cards, which were promised at the inception of the scheme, but are yet to be issued a year down the line.

Related: Shakti buoys Congress, but spend signals bumpy ride for govt

The scheme in numbers

Karnataka Congress Government Shakti Scheme Women Free Buses Empowerment

Over 225 crore free rides have been taken by women under Shakti Scheme since its launch in Karnataka. (Supplied)

On average, 18.1 lakh women travelled free under the Shakti scheme between June and 31 March, 2024.

The state government spent ₹434.11 crore every month for the implementation of the scheme during the period.

According to the Transport Department: “A total of 316.87 crore passengers travelled in the state-run buses between 11 June, 2023, and 31 March, 2024. Among them, 181.69 crore were women who have availed free travel in the state buses.”

It added: “The total ticket value of 181.69 crore free rides by women stands at ₹4,341.13 crore.”

It also said: “Over 225.15 crore free raids have been taken by women passengers since the launch of the scheme (11 June, 2023, to 9 June, 2024). The total ticket value stands at ₹5,481.40 crore.”

It may be noted that the state government had earmarked ₹2,800 crore to implement this scheme for the fiscal year 2023-24.

On the financial aspects of the Shakti Scheme, Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy told South First: “Over ₹5,015 crore has been reserved for the implementation of Shakti scheme this fiscal year.”

He added: “There is around ₹900 crore due from the state government for implementing this scheme for the previous fiscal year.”

He also noted: “There is no balance from April 2024. We have received ₹1,254 crore out of the earmarked grants from the state government for implementing the scheme in the ongoing fiscal year.”

Ramalinga Reddy also said: “We do not have any dispute over financial issues as the budgetary allocation for the same scheme has already been made. We are receiving payment (from the government) every month.”

Related: Shakti Scheme is a service and not for profit, says minister

Mixed reactions from citizens

Meanwhile, the public’s reactions to the scheme are diverse. While some lauded the initiative for its assistance to the poor, others criticised its impact on daily life.

Krishna Dutt from Kolar district’s Srinivaspur expresses disappointment, stating that the scheme only marginally benefited a select few.

He highlighted concerns about women utilising the free bus rides for non-essential trips, affecting students’ school attendance and adults’ household duties.

Karnataka Congress Government Shakti Scheme Women Free Buses Empowerment

Nagarathna, a resident of Bengaluru.

Nagarathna from Bengaluru dismissed the scheme as a temporary gimmick that fails to contribute to the state’s development.

She calls for redirecting funds towards critical infrastructure like roads, electricity, and water supply, saying that they had tangible impacts on citizens’ lives.

Shahul, a retiree from Bengaluru, stressed the importance of effective implementation to ensure that the scheme reaches its intended beneficiaries.

He raised doubts about its long-term sustainability and suggested focusing on broader developmental initiatives instead.

Karnataka Congress Government Shakti Scheme Women Free Buses Empowerment

Manjunath, a resident of Chikkaballapur.

On the other hand, Manjunath from Chikkaballapura hailed the scheme as a lifeline for the poor.

He said it had ended up providing much-needed relief to them and addressed socioeconomic inequalities.

He also emphasises its significance in alleviating the financial burdens of marginalised communities.

Karnataka Congress Government Shakti Scheme Women Free Buses Empowerment

Bhagya Lakshmi, a resident of Bengaluru City.

Bhagya Lakshmi, a resident of Bengaluru, echoed a sentiment of gratitude, applauding the scheme’s practical benefits in easing transportation expenses for ordinary citizens.

She emphasised its role in improving accessibility and affordability, particularly for low-income individuals and families.

It is evident that opinions vary widely, reflecting differing perspectives on its efficacy and significance in addressing societal needs.

Also read: KGF MLA criticised for driving KSRTC bus at Shakti Scheme launch

Address students’ concerns

Stating that the Shakti Scheme was a huge success, Ramalinga Reddy asserted: “The transport department has purchased over 5,800 buses, where 2,350 buses are already operating.”

He added: “The increase in the number of buses will resolve the concerns of the students’ community.”

In an exclusive conversation with South First, the minister said: “The buses are a little crowded during school and college hours. This has led students to express their concerns over a shortage of buses.”

He added: “Before the Shakti Scheme was implemented, around 80-85 lakh people used to travel in state-operated buses. Now, it has been increased to over 1 crore.”

Ramalinga Reddy explained: “There is an increase of 20 lakh in daily passenger count since the scheme has been implemented. Hence, the students are facing a rush during the school and college hours.”

He asserted: “We are stressing on increasing the number of buses during the school and college hours. Additionally, around 3,800 bus schedules were cancelled during the Covid-19. We are going to reintroduce all these cancelled schedules. This is all likely to resolve the issues facing the students.”

The minister claimed: “In the last four years, not even a single transport staff was recruited by the previous government. The government has given the nod to recruit 9,000 staff for the Transport Department.”

He added: “We have already filled 2,659 posts to date. The remaining will be recruited as early as possible.”

Ramalinga Reddy also said: “Women are enjoying free bus rides by travelling to pilgrimages, to their friends’ and relatives’ houses, and for work. It is totally a successful scheme in Karnataka.”

He claimed: “After the Shakti Scheme was implemented, the number of women in the workforce has increased by 5 percent. This scheme is helping empower women.”

Related: Shakti Scheme hit by smear campaigns, fake news

Impact on traffic

Public transport campaigner Srinivas Alavilli opined that the Shakti Scheme had reduced the congestion on streets as more women were opting for free bus rides.

Srinivas is the co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, which spearheaded the #SteelFlyoverBeda movement in 2016 followed by campaigns for a suburban train facility, buses, walkability, and ward committees.

He was, until recently, head of civic participation at the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, where he worked on strengthening ward committees and deepening public participation in local governance.

On the completion of one year of the Shakti Scheme, Srinivas told South First: “It’s a great moment to reflect on the journey of Shakti in Karnataka, and particularly in Bengaluru.”

He added: “In my personal opinion, Shakti has been a tremendous success because of multiple reasons. Number one, it empowers women. It brings education, it brings access to livelihoods to women that might otherwise not have it, which is a great way of changing our society and making more women part of our workforce.”

He continued: “Shakti seemed to have already achieved that based on the initial reports that are coming in based on the studies that were done.”

Srinivas also noted: “Number two, Shakti has reduced traffic congestion on our streets as more and more women opted for the bus. It reduced the number of private vehicles and personal vehicles on our streets.”

He added: “The numbers show that almost 30 percent more people are now travelling in the BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) buses in Bengaluru, which has a direct impact on both the traffic conditions and air pollution in the city of Bengaluru.”

He also said: “Any popular scheme like this requires political support because Shakti is a benefit and a welfare scheme. It has political support, because of which the demand for more buses is finally being heard by those in power.”

The activist noted: “We needed more buses before Shakti as well. But the state government seems to be keen to add more buses to the fleet — either to BMTC or all the road transport corporations (RTCs) in the state because of this scheme. So, in all these respects, I would say Shaki has been a tremendous success.”

Meanwhile, objecting to the scheme, former Karnataka deputy chief minister and BJP Dr CN Ashwath Narayan told South First: “Have the number of buses increased? No, but the number of passengers have, and this has caused a huge inconvenience to regular travellers.”

He added: “The government has not understood the seriousness. BJP strongly believes in public transportation. We welcome that it’s free. Address public transportation properly.”

Also Read: Here’s how Bengaluru residents reacted to Shakti

Beneficiaries await smart cards

One of the proposals to boost the Shakti Scheme was that women would be issued smart cards to avail its benefits.

Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy promised as much at its launch.

However, a year since the initiative started, the state government has yet to take a call on issuing them for beneficiaries.

On top of that, it appears that the Transport Department may not issue smart cards anytime soon!

had stated that the government would issue a smart card for the beneficiaries of the Shakti scheme.

On the delay, Ramalinga Reddy told South First: “BMTC officials have highlighted some technical difficulties while the discussions were being made on issuing smart cards.”

He added: “The officials pointed out that there would be several stops on a single route, which were likely to lead to some confusion and issues. It was also causing a lot of difficulties for the staff.”

He continued: “The plan was postponed last year. We will take this up now.”

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)