The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus strike in Mumbai entered the fifth on Saturday, January 12, making it the longest bust strike ever in the city. Since only one driver had reported for work on Saturday, there was not a single bus on the road. As many as 3,200 buses ply under BEST and more than 25 lakh passengers depend on its services on a daily basis.
Nearly 32,000 BEST employees are part of the ongoing indefinite strike demanding higher salaries, merger of the BEST budget with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) budget, negotiations on new wage agreement, resumption of a previous policy of giving appointments on compassionate grounds and bonuses on par with BMC employees. The BEST workers started their indefinite strike on January 8, joining along with the nationwide strike that had been called by the central trade unions.
The management, however, has initiated vindictive actions against the striking workers. Even though the workers had served advance notice required under the statute for their strike call, letters have been sent to workers. The Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) 2011 had been invoked in the late hours of January 7.
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In a letter that was issued by the BEST management to the workers on January 8, 2019, it was mentioned that “in spite of restraining order of the court and the notification under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act, 2011, you remained absent from work without intimation or proper sanction of leave on 08.01.2019. As you have participated in the illegal strike, you are in unauthorised occupation of the tenement allotted to you. You are, therefore, called upon to vacate the aforesaid tenement and hand over the peaceful and vacant profession of the aforesaid tenement, failing which eviction proceedings will be initiated against you.”
In response to this, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) wrote to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, seeking his attention to this issue. The letter written by Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, says, “The clear vindictiveness of the above order is established by the fact that the ‘restraining order’ of the Industrial Court and notification under MESMA 2011 no way authorise the authority concerned of BEST to directly order for eviction from the quarter/tenement allotted to the concerned employees neither service rules permit such action.”
As of Saturday, as per the estimations, BEST has incurred a loss of over Rs. 12 crore. To tackle the ongoing strike, nearly 2,000 private buses including school buses have been deployed from Saturday morning. “A total of 2,000 private and school buses will be plying on Mumbai roads owing to the BEST strike. All passengers travelling a distance up to 10 km will be charged Rs. 20 and above as per the BEST rate. People with disabilities and senior citizens will be allowed to use the services for free. The service is being provided by the School Bus Owners’ Association and Mumbai Bus Malak Sanghathan,” said Anil Garg, the association’s president.
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Earlier, Central and Western Railways had started to run extra services and more Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses were also deployed to cover up the strike.
The BEST workers are yet to receive their salaries for the month of December 2018. Responding to the strike, a daily commuter from Kurla to Mahul, Rajaram Satpute, told PTI, "I have been living in Mumbai for the past 40 years and I have never seen such a long BEST strike. I want to ask the CM Fadnavis what he is doing in Uttar Pradesh. This is the time when he should be in Mumbai.”