The BEST strike continues for a third day, even after the administration initiated action against the protesting employees under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act.
In Mumbai buses run by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) stayed off the roads for the second day in a row on Wednesday, and workers are likely to continue their strike on Thursday too as talks between workers’ unions and the BEST administration made no headway. The workers are demanding better pay and benefits, among other things.
While lakhs of commuters struggled to get around the city again, there was no intervention from either the Shiv Sena, which controls the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (parent body of BEST), or the BJP-led state government. Instead, both ruling parties sought to shift the blame on to each other.
The strike will continue for a third day, even after the BEST administration initiated action against the protesting employees under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act. At least 300 employees got notices warning them of disciplinary action, while 2,000 others were asked to vacate their staff quarters at Bhoiwada and Parel if they did not want to report to duty.
There were chaotic scenes outside stations, and at bus stands in the morning and evening peak hours on Wednesday; autos and taxis were in demand and charged high rates, while alternative arrangements made by the state government, that of using the State Transport buses, was inadequate. There were long queues for autorickshaws and taxis outside railway stations and in the business hubs of Nariman Point and Bandra Kurla Complex.
While the Shiv Sena-affiliated union had withdrawn support to the strike on Tuesday night and announced the operation of 500 buses, it was only able to bring out 11 buses on roads, and even those were taken back to the depots within an hour after protests. By evening, the state government allowed private buses and vehicles to ferry commuters.
As commuters suffered, both chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray were out of town — Fadnavis in Solapur to attend PM Narendra Modi’s function, and Thackeray touring drought-affected areas in central Maharashtra. City BJP leaders chose not to comment but pointed out that both BEST and BMC were controlled by the Shiv Sena.
An official from the chief minister’s office (CMO) said Fadnavis was likely to intervene to end the strike. A meeting of the officials concerned could be called on Thursday, he said.
Work in the BEST’s electric wing also suffered, as nearly 50% of the employees were on strike. Power supply, however, was not interrupted. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena also announced its support to the strike on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, the BEST management conducted meeting with representatives of the BEST Sankyut Kamgar Kriti Samiti (BSKKS), the action committee of unions, but no concrete solution could be worked out. “Communication with the management is going on but the situation has been the same. There has been no concrete decision. We had given a written detailed communication to the organisation to which they are willing to discuss but we have asked for a written assurance. After getting a written assurance we will speak to the employees and take a call,” said Shashank Rao, leader, BEST Workers union.
“The talks and discussions with the union are on and we have requested them to take back the strike,” said Surendra Kumar Bagde general manager of the BEST after the meeting.
The Shiv Sena backed union stated that discussions with the management on the wages of the employees have started: “We cannot say anything to the employees who are on the strike and we have done no communication with them. We have started our discussions with the management on increasing of employees wages,” said Suhas Samant, BEST committee member and leader of BEST Kamgar Sena.
Transport experts said the BEST buses were not a priority anymore, “It is highly unfortunate and painful that the BEST buses are not of a priority anymore. Everywhere in the world passengers commute by buses and not my trains, however, it is the opposite in the city. The employees of the organisation are likely to feel uncertainty. The comprehensive mobility plan which has 17 dedicated bus routes should be implemented,” said transport expert Ashok Datar.
Aamchi Mumbai, Aamchi BEST, an independent forum of citizens has written to municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta stating that the BMC could avoid the hardship caused to commuters. “The BMC could have easily avoided the hardship caused to commuters. The main demand of the strike — the merger of the BEST budget with the principal budget of the BMC – would also be in the interests of the vast majority of commuters if, at the same time, the BMC had committed itself to fund public transport at adequate levels as an essential municipal service. Like healthcare, education, water supply, waste disposal and sewerage, public transport must be run not to make a profit but to meet an essential need,” mentioned Vidyadhar Date, convener, Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST in the letter.