The suicide of two employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) in last five days have brought the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Uddhav Thackeray under fire. The suicides took place after the MSRTC, popularly known as ST, reportedly failed to pay its over 96,000 employees for the past four months.
"The minimum and irregular salary in ST corporation is the reason of my suicide. The Thackeray Sarkar (MVA government) and the working system of ST corporation is responsible for this. My family has nothing to do in my suicide. The unions should try to give my PF and LIC money to my family," wrote driver Manoj Chaudhari of Jalgaon depot of the MSRTC in his suicide note.
There are around 96,000 people employed by the MSRTC. They haven't received their salaries since July. (https://www.newsclick.in/unpaid-3-months-struggling-survive-maharashtra-transport-employees-launch-protest) The pension amount of their salaries has gone up to Rs 1000 crore now. The corporation is unable to pay salaries because it has lost a large portion of its income during the lockdown to curb Covid-19 spread.
Transport minister Anil Parab said, "We have asked Rs 3000 crore from the state government. Out of that, Rs 1000 crore is expected to be received this month. We are clearing the first month’s salary before Diwali (it starts with Dhanteras in Maharashtra and means before November 13).” Referring to the suicides, he further said, “I appeal to all employees to not take such an extreme step."
The MSRTC has seen a sharp fall in its income. Earlier, its daily income was Rs 24 crore. But since the lockdown, it had reduced to Rs 2 crore for the first two months. Now, after consecutive ‘unlock’ phases, it has increased to Rs 7 crore. But at the same time, the ignorance of the state government is also responsible for the current situation.
MSRTC is a state owned property. But the employees are not state government employees. According to law, the employees are of the corporation. So, every time the corporation lands into financial trouble, the state government does not take cognizance of it seriously.
"State transport is public service and no public service runs with profit. Nowhere in the world. So, the state government should not apply rules of tally to MSRTC,” said DL Karad, national vice president of CITU. “It shows the insensitivity of the state government that it ignored the demands of payment for three months. Now, employees have been forced to take such an extreme step," he added.
The ST employees union leader Sandeep Shinde says that policies of the state government need to be changed.
"The state government looks at the ST as a golden goose. But it forgets that it is responsible for the welfare of the employees too,” Shinde said. “The ST employees have no social security, no special allowances and very less salaries. This too when 80% of the state's rural transport is still dependent on this service. So, till the state government does not change the approach, there is no possibility of improvement," he said.
Opposition parties as well as other unions of ST employees have also slammed the state government over non-payment of salaries, which is being seen as an insensitive move that can affect public perception of the MVA government.