olitics is played best in glows with BMC forgetting the fact that the voters are suffering. The BEST bus strike has created questioning history by entering the fourth consecutive day — the longest in decades — the last being the 1997 stir that stretched for three days. There seems to be no end to the woes of lakhs of commuters in Mumbai as an indefinite strike by employees of the city’s civic transport undertaking. Not a single bus of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) plied on the Mumbai roads since Tuesday. The commuters complained that auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers were charging much more than the normal rates. Some harried commuters also appealed to the Maharashtra government to take necessary steps to end the protest. Private transport companies minting money, the workplaces are running usual but the employees are unable to reach their destination. Nearly 32,000 BEST employees are on strike since four days over various demands, including higher salaries and merger of the budget of the loss-making undertaking with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The other demands include bonus payment, gratuity to former staffers, staff quarters issues, and those regarding gradation of junior staff, for which no proposal was made.
The state government had moved quickly to invoke the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against the striking BEST employees, while its management asked them to end the stir and come to the negotiating table. The BEST administration had cracked the whip, issuing notices to over 2,000 staffers to vacate the houses provided by the undertaking. A total of 358 employees have been booked under this act so far. Also, 333 contempt notices have been issued for violating the industrial court order which restrained the workers from going on strike. BEST administration also held dialogue with the BEST workers’ union leader Shashank Rao, but it did not yield a positive outcome. Passengers continued to face inconvenience and some complained that auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers were trying to fleece them. Meanwhile, the Central Railway and Western Railway have decided to operate additional suburban trains for the convenience of the commuters but that is not enough to address the local distance from the stations to other work locations. The BEST operates around 3,200 buses across the city and its suburbs and is the second biggest mode of public transport after the local trains.
Shiv Sena which is the ruling party in the BMC is at the receiving end for not giving any remedy to the commuters. Shiv Sena chief Udhhav Thackeray tried to intervene and end the deadlock. However, despite a seven hours-long meeting with the agitating BEST union leaders, BEST officials, and BMC officials, he could not do so. The Chief Minister remained silent, however, Udhhav tried to take the middle ground in the negotiation while the BMC and BEST authorities denied them even giving any kind of written assurance. Ahead of the 2019 elections, everyone is trying to project their powers but one needs to understand that in this game of display, the sufferer is none other than the commuters those who are the voters, who can decide the fate of these parties by adding value to the Opposition in the forthcoming elections. If Mumbaikars have the tolerance, they have their way of reacting at right time.
BEST is the second largest mode of public transport in the city, which ferries around 29 lakh passengers daily, with its fleet of 3,337 buses. It has a workforce of more than 35,000 employees. Count these people and their families as votes; one must know that each vote counts. Even as the survival of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking is at stake owing to its poor financial state; labour unions want salary of around 14,000 junior grade workers to be revised, besides the interim pay hike for all the employees. These demands of the BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS), the joint action committee of labour unions in the undertaking, are the main reason behind the current stalemate. The debt-ridden BEST management is hesitant to accept the labour union’s demand, as it will put an estimated burden of Rs 900 crore on the cash-strapped undertaking. BEST was going through a financial crisis since April 2017, with a loan burden of Rs 2,500 crore, besides a cumulative loss of Rs 1,800 crore. It is unable to pay workers’ salaries and retirement benefits such as gratuity in time. BJP came to power claiming development and they are talking about bullet trains and high-tech infrastructure, and new metros. The 14,000 employees working on junior grade get a monthly salary of Rs 10,000 – Rs 12,000 (basic pay of Rs 5,430) after provident fund and other cuts. So the unions are demanding master grade. The total burden of the demand is less than Rs 200 crore a year. BJP-Shiv Sena both failed on their grounds; Shiv Sena wants to take absolute power in hands to take care of Maharashtra but they failed to take care of the basic BMC and BEST; BJP has just proven to be a jumla party and this government not only failed on these issues but there are various such challenges that they simply ignored keeping silence. Both the parties need to understand that the voters are not always agenda-driven or kind. Every time sympathy for Balasaheb and Modi waves are not going to spell the mandate. Rather, the party in alliance needs to act on these issues urgently by taking it as the priority.
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