Thousands of commuters struggled to reach their respective destinations on Thursday after 80% of the buses run by the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) went off the road, as more than 40,000 drivers, conductors, mechanics and workers of the public undertaking went on a voluntary strike against the administration.
BEST Workers’ Union, led by general secretary Sharad Rao, led the strike to protest against non-fulfillment of their demands.
The situation worsened after union members pelted buses with stones in Worli, Wadala, Matunga, Sewri, Sion, Dadar, Kandivli and Dindoshi. By the end of the day, 141 buses sported broken windows, cracked windshields and punctured tyres. “These buses were attacked by the union members of the Shiv Sena and other smaller unions,” said Rao.
The frequency of bus services reduced drastically after 8 am and commuters were left to the mercy of autorickshaws and taxis, which were either running at full capacity or refused to take passengers.
By 12pm, only 1,049 of the scheduled 3,923 buses were plying. As the day progressed, the only 23% of buses, out of the total scheduled 4,100 were plying.
More than 120 people were arrested across the city for inciting violence. “We are not responsible for the attacks. The BEST administration has decided to remove the perpetrators,” said Suhas Samant, president, BEST Kamgaar Sena. “We will conduct an inquiry against the protesters and action would be taken against them,” said BEST general manager OP Gupta.
At 5pm, members of the union and Gupta had a joint meeting with deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, and the strike was called off after the union was promised their demands would be met by March 2012, said sources. The protesters have demanded that arrears and wages of around Rs560 crore should be paid up and that wages should be according to the Sixth Pay Commission.