Dilip Kakde, an employee with the Shevgaon State Transport (ST) Depot at Ahmednagar district died by suicide after hanging from the back of a state transport bus on Friday morning. It is believed that his financial condition had deteriorated as he did not receive his salary for three months.
Till now, 28 ST employees have lost their lives by suicide across Maharashtra. These tragic incidents have sparked the anger of employees, with protests spilling into depots across the state.
There are 96,000 employees with the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), popularly called ‘ST employees’. Their salary issues have been consistently in news as MSRTC has time and again failed to clear it on a monthly basis. Earlier in 2019 and 2020, salaries were delayed by 2 to 5 months at a stretch. This year, it has been pending for three months.
MSRTC has been running out of funds repeatedly since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the country. Since the first lockdown, the income of MSRTC fell to Rs 20 lakhs per day from Rs 24 crores per day in the pre-pandemic era. This has taken a big hit on the already distressed finances of MSRTC.
With pending salaries of ST employees running into Rs 700 crore, MSRTC decided on October 26 to increase bus fares in various slabs. For instance, in normal buses, the fare has been increased by 12 paise per kilometre. Similarly, fares have been increased for AC buses, special Shivneri and Shiv Shahi AC buses, as well as Asiad buses. For example, a ticket on the Mumbai-Pune AC bus named Shivneri was earlier priced at Rs 440 per adult. Now it has been increased to Rs 515.
As a corporation, MSRTC is not directly administered by the state government, and this has been a contentious issue for ST employees.
"Increasing fare is not the final solution. State government should know that MSRTC is the primary public transport service in rural and semi-rural parts of Maharashtra. Government will have to take over the corporation and treat its employees like state government employees. Only then ST employees will get their salary on time," said DL Karad, leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions in Maharashtra.
"Diwali is here. Employees haven't gotten a salary for months. They are deprived of their basic rights as labourers. In such conditions, tension among employees is obvious. Incidents like suicides are painful to hear. The government must intervene immediately and pay at least two months salary right now," said ST employees union leader Sandeep Shinde.
State transport minister Anil Parab had recently announced a 5 per cent hike in dearness allowance (DA). But, ST employees are not satisfied with this. "DAs are pending since 2019. Now they have given a hike based on 2019 inflation levels. Actually, there should at least be a 25 per cent hike to match the current inflation. But, they have given just 5 per cent. Union government employees are getting 16 per cent DA. It is the same with state government employees. ST employees should also get similar DA as they are humans too," said DL Karad.
Recently, a video of a driver eating papad and chutney for lunch - instead of the staple roti-subji - went viral among ST employees. The video reflects the degree of financial difficulties suffered by ST drivers, conductors, and workers across depots.
"For how long should we work without salary? What should we feed our wife and children? Are we not humans? Doesn’t this government see our condition? Don't they think we should live respectfully?" another ST employee from Solapur was seen asking emotionally in another video.