HC coaxes MSRTC employees, state to resolve strike amicably in public interest

On October 28, a group of MSRTC employees started an indefinite strike to demand the merger of the cash-strapped body with the Maharashtra government
MSRTC employees stage a symbolic protest with traditional bhajans and kirtans during their ongoing strike at Azad Maidan, in Mumbai, on Monday. (Bhushan Koyande/HT PHOTO)
MSRTC employees stage a symbolic protest with traditional bhajans and kirtans during their ongoing strike at Azad Maidan, in Mumbai, on Monday. (Bhushan Koyande/HT PHOTO)
Published on Nov 15, 2021 11:38 PM IST
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ByKAY Dodhiya, Mumbai

The Bombay high court (HC) on Monday urged the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), its employees who have been on strike since October 28, and the state government to resolve their concerns amicably in the wider interest of the public and restrained them from making statements on contentious issues.

The HC while finding nothing objectionable in the union members raising peaceful slogans during the strike also urged the union to co-operate if some drivers and conductors were willing to resume duty. It also sought a progress report from the court-appointed committee, slated to meet on November 16.

“We have requested the employees to come back to work and discuss and will have discussions on each of their demands. We will comply with whatever decision is made by the court,” transport minister Anil Parab said.

On October 28, a group of MSRTC workers started an indefinite strike to demand the merger of the cash-strapped body with the Maharashtra government. The following day, the industrial court passed order restraining the employees from striking. However, 28 unions announced a strike. On November 3, based on a petition filed by the MSRTC, the HC restrained the unions from going on strike till further orders. On November 8, the court ordered the state to form a committee to resolve employee grievances following which a three-member committee was duly formed. However, the strike continued following which MSRTC filed a contempt petition against 340 employees and workers unions, and started suspending some employees.

The division bench of Justice Prasanna Varale and Justice Shriram Modak said on Monday that it would not hear arguments on the maintainability of the petition if a solution to the contentions of the MSRTC employees could be reached by the committee.

The committee consists of the chief secretary Sitaram Kunte, additional chief secretary finance Manoj Sainik and additional chief secretary transport department Ashish Kumar Singh, and held its first hearing on November 8 itself.

On Monday, advocate Gunaratan Sadavarte, the counsel for Maharashtra Rajya Kanishth Vetanshreni ST Karmachari Sanghatana, one of the unions of MSRTC (and representing the members of other unions as well) objected to the members and other authorities, but later submitted that the unions would submit a memorandum of demands before the committee on November 16.

Sadavarte also submitted that the union members had been conducting a peaceful agitation by raising slogans hailing great personalities like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule which was not causing any disturbance in the public, but the transport minister and other authorities involved had been making contentious statements.

On November 10, transport minister Anil Parab had said that the employees will face repercussions of the strike. “I appeal to the MSRTC workers to not get provoked by the political parties. Finally, the damage will be faced by the workers as we have already suspended some protestors. Political parties are capitalising on the strike but workers will have to face loss of pay for not coming to work. Will political parties take responsibility of salary lost?”

The counsel for MSRTC senior advocate S U Kamdar informed the bench that some of the issues raised by the striking employees had been met with. They had been given 14% increment and were paid salaries till October along with Diwali gifts. However the issue of merger of the union members in the ranks of State government employees was of a complex nature and had to be decided after following due procedure, hence it was pending.

Kamdar also informed the bench that some 111 drivers and 79 conductors had shown willingness to resume duties and hence no hindrances should be created by anyone. He added that 2000 commuters had travelled on the buses run by some of these drivers and conductorssince Friday.

After hearing the submissions the bench observed, “Difficulty is faced by general public on account of non-availability of transport facilities. This can be taken care of by permitting those employees showing their willingness to join duties. The Corporation in turn is at liberty to permit these employees to ply the buses so that the general public is not put to any suffering or difficulties.”

The court further added that it did not find any problem in striking employees raising slogans as mentioned by their counsel but said, “We expect that in the view of the November 8 order and fitness of the things that the parties or their representatives to avoid making public statements about the contentious issues.”

The court also remarked that it was conscious of the situation of MSRTC employees and did not want loss of lives (due to suicides) as it would affect entire families.

“It is our earnest appeal that none should take extreme step of losing life. Please look at this matter with logical approach. Let there be an exchange of thoughts and a beginning. It is a democratic process and let us participate in that. It shouldn’t happen that common traveller is put to suffer either by non-plying of MSRTC buses or even through overcharging by private buses,” said the court.

The organisation started operating few buses in the state from Friday after employees started returning. On Monday by afternoon the organisation operated 41 buses including Shivneri and Shivshahi buses across Maharashtra. Since November 8, 5,187 employees (drivers and conductors) have resumed work.

The petition will next be heard on November 22.

Meanwhile, the Jagrut Kamgar Sanghatna (BJKS), one of the labour unions of BrihanMumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) on Monday wrote to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to merge BEST with BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

In the letter signed by union leader Suhas Nalawade the union stated that the duty to ply bus and electricity services for the citizen of the city is by BMC under the section 63 of the Mumbai Municipal Act 1988. Thereby the union has demanded for the merger of the BEST with the city’s municipal corporation.

(With inputs from Aroosa Ahmed)

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021