BEST bus strike enters Day 7: Maharashtra govt panel expected to submit report today; MNS threatens to hit the streets

Over 25 lakh commuters in Mumbai who rely on buses for their daily commute continue to face travel woes on Monday as the BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking) strike entered its seventh day.

The agitating workers and the management of the civic-run transport undertaking did not strike any deal on Sunday and no bus plied as only four drivers, out of the 2,610 on the payroll, came to work. All the 2,764 conductors also remained absent.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had threatened to hit the streets on Monday if the state government, BMC administration and the ruling parties failed to find a solution and end the strike. “We support the strike and the BEST employees. Their demands are just. If those demands are not met, the MNS will launch a protest,” said MNS leader Sandip Deshpande.

A meeting — held on the directions of the Bombay High Court — between a state government committee (comprising the chief secretary, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation commissioner, BEST general manager and transport and urban development secretaries) and union functionaries on Saturday failed to break the impasse.

Dharavi depot on Tuesday after BEST employees went on an indefinite strike. PTI

Dharavi depot on Tuesday after BEST employees went on an indefinite strike. PTI

Meanwhile, Vidyadhar Date, convener of Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST, a citizens’ forum for public transport, blamed the BMC and the undertaking for the stir.

He alleged that BMC and BEST had failed to invest in the city’s public transport mechanism and had been encouraging an energy-guzzling car-centric system for the metropolis.

The Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST convener said these moves had led to debilitating traffic congestion, worsening air pollution and life-risking overcrowding on the suburban rail network.

The BMC has been focused on the coastal road instead of bus priority lanes, private contractors instead of commuters, BESTs so-called “inefficiencies” instead of the city’s worsening pollution and congestion, and convenience of private motorists instead of safe, affordable and sustainable public transport, he claimed.

Date said the BEST management looked at its bus service as an essential one under the Essential Services Maintenance Act only when it came to strikes, but on other occasions, like when it wanted to reduce fleet size, manpower, routes and increase privatisation, it saw the system as a “non-essential” one.

Narrating his ordeal, Pramod Arjun Yadav, a conductor in BEST told ANI, “This strike is posing a lot of problems for us to run a household. The state government must intervene and find out a solution on the same. We are getting less salary than the average.”

“The administration is not paying our salaries on time. It because of the corruption. Some of us have not even received the refunds for our bills. We will keep sitting on strike until our demands are met,” claimed another employee.

Over 32,000 employees of the BEST are on strike since last Tuesday and 3,200-odd buses in its fleet are off the roads. They have been demanding the merger of the BMC and BEST budgets as well as higher salaries among other issues. Protesters are also seeking resolution of the issue of employee service residences and recruitment.

Shiv Sena vows to fulfil ‘promise’

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said on Sunday that his party will fulfil its promise to merge the budget of the transport undertaking with that of the BMC. “The financial condition of the BEST has deteriorated. I had given the promise of the merger of the budgets and that will be fulfilled. A solution can be found only through the talks. Even though the BEST strike issue is in the court, I am ready to be part of the discussion if necessary,” Uddhav said.

He also said with the BEST facing financial troubles, unreasonable demands would create more problems.

The Sena controls the BMC apart from being a partner in the BJP-led Maharashtra government. It had promised merger of the budgets during the civic poll campaign in 2017.

A Sena-affiliated union had withdrawn from the strike on the second day and its leaders had claimed a minimum of 500 buses will start plying on the roads from the next day.

Talking about BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta hinting at privatisation as an option, Uddhav said it could not be the final solution. “We will not let the ownership slip away from us (BMC). There could be privatisation of few buses but no final decision has been taken yet,” he said.

DNA reported that the 27 additional buses of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation operate in locations like Seepz, Panvel, Nariman Point, Kalina and Kurla on Sunday. An additional nine buses of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Transport also ran between Andheri and Airoli.

The report quoted BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS) president Shashank Rao as saying, “We are waiting for Monday, when the three-member committee formed by the state government will submit its report.”

Locals in Mumbai have been forced to bear the brunt of higher fares as they now have to opt for a private taxi or an autorickshaw to commute. Moreover, rides to busy areas such as Churchgate, Lower Parel, BKC, Andheri, and Goregaon are costing more than the rest of the places.

Meanwhile, The Times of India reported that the drivers’ union of Ola and Uber have threatened to launch a strike in Mumbai if the state government does not address their demand for better pay.

Govind Mohite of Maharashtra Rajya Rashtriya Kamgar Sangh was quoted as saying in the report that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had assured them he would look into their demands and possibly call for a meeting after the Winter Session of the state Assembly. He further said that the driver partners are disappointed that their demands seem to have been “ignored” by the government.

In the wake of the ongoing strike, School Bus Owners’ Association announced on Saturday that a total of 2,000 private buses will provide service to passengers in Mumbai. “1,000 school buses and 1,000 private buses will provide services to passengers in the light of the strike by BEST bus employees,” Anil Garg of the association was quoted as saying by ANI.

Garg said that passengers travelling up to 10 kilometres will be charged Rs 20, beyond which BEST rates will be applicable. Differently-abled and senior citizens can travel free of cost.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 14, 2019 13:14 PM

Updated: January 14, 2019 — 8:35 am