Prompted by the fear of the “eventual privatisation” of the state’s bus carrier, employees of Haryana Roadways have decided to step up their protests against the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government in the state. The employees will be part of a campaign led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) that had begun on July 25 to press for their long-standing demands.
“Demonstrations and gate meetings will be held across 22 bus depots in the state in the coming days,” Sumer Srivastava from the Haryana Roadways Workers' Union (HRWU) told Newsclick over the phone from Rohtak. He added that if the coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) in the state does not address the issues of the employees “immediately”, the union will be “forced” to call for a strike.
Above all, the roadways employees’ union is protesting against the 'kilometre scheme', under which a fleet of buses on identified routes are outsourced to private bus operators. Under the scheme, which was introduced in 2018 to ostensibly bridge the gap between supply and demand of passenger buses in Haryana, the private operator is paid by the roadways department on a km-by-km basis.
In a statement issued on Friday, Sarbat Punia, general secretary, HRWU, said that the Haryana Roadways is being “defamed” as private operators are hiring “untrained” drivers, leading to an increase in road accidents in the state. “During this period when the prices of essential commodities are on rise, private owners are also exploiting these drivers by paying them less,” he claimed.
He demanded that instead of issuing permits to the private bus operators, the state government must immediately add 14,000 new buses to the state’s fleet. “Apart from providing better and safe transport services to the public, around 84,000 new jobs will also be created due to this,” he said.
Srivastava told Newsclick on Saturday that the union will also approach the “general public” in the state with these demands and apprise them of the issues faced by Haryana Roadways. “The state government's moves are all in the direction to eventually privatise the bus service,” he said.
“The union demands a package of Rs 2,000 crore for the Haryana Roadways so that we can tide over the losses incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
In 2018, well over 20,000 roadways employees had gone on strike, raising similar demands, for as many as 18 days. According to Srivastava, the strike is still fresh in their memory.
The campaign by Haryana Roadways employees is part of the fortnight-long nationwide campaign, jointly launched by CITU and its sister organisations, to “Save India”. The campaign will culminate into a nationwide protest on August 9 – the day when the Quit India Movement was launched in 1942.
Under the campaign, different organisations will raise their respective demands across the country through outreach programmes.