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Maha: State Transport Employees’ Strike Enters Fourth Month as Deadlock Continues

Amey Tirodkar |
More than 97,000 employees were on strike in the first week. From these, 27,000 have returned to work now. The state's rural transport system continues to be paralysed.
Maha: State Transport Employees’ Strike Enters Fourth Month as Deadlock Continues

Image Courtesy: The Economic Times

On October 29, thousands of employees from all 250 bus depots of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), known as ST corporation, went on strike spontaneously. They had not been given salaries for three months. The trigger point was the suicide of an employee from a depot in Solapur district. Since then, three months have passed, but the core demand of merger or ST corporation into state government is still pending. This has prolonged the strike, an intense one in Maharashtra's recent history.

"The state government has appointed a three member committee on the directions of Bombay High Court to study the merger issue. The time limit for this committee to submit the report is till February 3. We are expecting the report now," said state transport minister Anil Parab.

Till January 28, MSRTC has suspended a total of 11,024 employees. These are employees who refused to reply even after suspension notice are being dismissed. Total 6,426 employees have been dismissed till now, and 7,876 are in the process of being dismissed. "Action on employees will continue if they fail to join back," said Anil Parab.

This spree of suspensions came after several rounds of discussions with unions, and political leadership supporting the strike failed. When the strike started in all parts of the state in the last week of October, opposition party BJP's two MLC - Sadabhau Khot and Gopichand Padalkar took the lead in the battle. They came to Azad Maidan, Mumbai, to start sit-in agitation against the state government. Meanwhile, the state government was in talks with more than 25 unions.

By November second week, the state government came up with a proposal to pacify protesting employees. The proposal didn't have any point about the demand to merge the corporation into the state government. Instead, the latter proposed a salary hike and a Diwali bonus to all the employees as per their grades. The state government also assured to clear salaries on time. But, the protest continued around the merger demand.

ST buses are a lifeline for rural Maharashtra. Buses go to every corner, even in the smallest village with roads. Therefore, people at large were in support of the strike initially. But once employees remained adamant in the demand of merger, despite the hike in the pay scale and assurance of Diwali bonus, public support started fading away. Looking at this mood, BJP MLCs, portraying themselves as fighting for the employees, silently left protesters on their own.

By November last week, even Bombay HC asked employees to go back to work until the government's report on the merger was tabled. But a large number of employees were not ready. Moreover, the industrial court has given a verdict saying the strike is illegal. This helped the state government to start taking action on employees.

Giving the status of government employees to 97,000 workers in ST is not an easy thing to do. MSRTC is the biggest corporation as per size in the state. But there are many corporations such as Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) and others in the state. Many of them are dependent on the state's money. Merging one corporation into a state government would encourage similar demands from the other corporations. Also, MSRTC is a huge corporation. So, it would be an entire department in the state if it allowed merging. Looking at all these micro details, the state government has already hinted that the merge demand won't be accepted. While talking in the Assembly during the winter session Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Ajit Pawar said, "I want to make it clear to ST employees that forget about the merger. It is a very complicated procedure. It is better to get more benefits as a corporation and I request them to join back."

MSRTC claimed on Friday, January 28, that 27,192 employees had joined back till now. Out of 250 depots, 244 are partially functional. MSRTC is taking the help of private drivers to run the buses. But it is also true that the rural transport services have been in a paralysed state for the last three months. People have been suffering in the entire state

"Merger is a logical demand of employees. We will wait till the committee report. We hope the report will be in our favour. We will decide our future course of action once the report comes," said Ajaykumar Gujar, chief of ST Employees Union.

There are multiple sides to the ST employees' strikes. Once upon a time, MSRTC was the most profitable corporation in the state. But financial mismanagement, political interference and other ill practices finish the glory of ST. Today, it has come to the situation where the corporation cannot pay the salaries of employees. Genuine political will and financial discipline will only bring glory back to ST. Both of these matters, unfortunately, are not in the hands of the employees.

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