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Sunday, Aug 18, 2019

BEST strike to continue on Wednesday, but 500 buses will ply

At least 500 of the 3,337 BEST buses could ply in Mumbai on Wednesday as a section of the staff, led by a Shiv Sena-affiliated union, has decided to withdraw support to the strike.

mumbai Updated: Jan 09, 2019 09:18 IST
Aroosa Ahmed and Kailash Korde
Aroosa Ahmed and Kailash Korde
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
BEST workers are on strike to press for several of their demands.
BEST workers are on strike to press for several of their demands. (Satish Bate/HT Photo)

A majority of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) buses will continue to stay off the roads for a second day in a row on Wednesday, as talks between the management and the protesting staff failed. However, at least 500 of the 3,337 buses could ply as a section of the staff, led by a Shiv Sena-affiliated union, has decided to withdraw support.

“We were never a part of the strike, but only offered our support,” said Suhas Samant, BEST committee member and leader of the Sena-affiliated BEST Kamgar Sena. “But we have taken back our support and will operate 500 buses on Wednesday.”

On the first day of the strike, lakhs of commuters struggled to get around Mumbai as the city’s second-largest mass transport system came to a halt on Tuesday. The staff, led by BEST Sankyut Kamgar Kriti Samiti (BSKKS) or joint action committee of labour unions, has been demanding better pay and benefits, among other things.

“There was no fruitful outcome of the talks with the management, despite repeated meetings,” said Shashank Rao, leader of the BEST Workers’ union, the biggest union of the workers. “We have decided to continue our strike on Wednesday,” Rao said.

At the time of going to press, the government had not intervened to end the strike. Instead, state transport minister Diawakar Raote chose to pass the onus on to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. “The BEST undertaking is governed by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which comes under the state urban development department that is headed by the chief minister. It is up to them to take a call,” he said.

Commuters were caught in the middle of the tussle, especially in the morning and evening peak hours. Students who had examinations said they had a harrowing time getting to their destinations, while autos, taxis and app-based cabs charged exorbitant prices. Many relied on private buses to get to work or college and school.

“I waited for 20 minutes but there was no sight of any BEST bus. Autorickshaws were charging a lot. The commuters’ only hope was the private bus,” said Amna Khan from Bandra.

Khar resident Kunal Gupta said his usual auto fare from Bandra station to BKC was ₹20, but on Tuesday, autorickshaw drivers charged ₹30 to ₹40 a seat on share autos.

Social media was flooded with complaints, suggestions for alternate routes, and adivsories. “#BEST buses completely off roads as union has called for indefinite #strike in Mumbai. No alternate arrangements at #Kurla. Auto Ricksha charges 20,30 & 100 seat.... plan your travel.,” tweeted one use, @mandar2005.

For over a week now, BEST workers have been talking about striking work, but authorities made no alternative arrangements until Tuesday morning. Further, there was little coordination between the authorities that handle public transport.

Among the employees’ demands is higher grade pay for those recruited from 2007. The staffers also want compassionate appointments to resume, and discussions on a new wage agreement that was to come into effect from April 2016. They have also demanded for bonuses on par with BMC staffers. Merging the budget of the loss-making BEST with the civic body’s budget is another demand. This, said labour union leaders, would end the financial woes of BEST and ensure staffers get salaries on time. The unions are also strongly against the management’s decision to get new buses on lease.

The BEST management on Tuesday, along with BMC, its parent body, held two meetings with the unions. The first was at the BMC headquarters, but it failed to reach a consensus. The second meeting was held at the BEST headquarters in Colaba, with senior BEST officials and members of the union.

“The management is in constant touch with unions. We have told the workers that we are open to negotiation,” said Surendrakumar Bagde, general manager, BEST. Bagde, however, added that discussions would only take place once the strike is called off. “Despite financial problems, the organisation has been paying staff salaries every month,” he said.

Not a single bus moved out of the city’s 27 bus depots on Tuesday. Ten buses were vandalised after midnight on Monday, and one driver was injured.

In a bid to give passengers some relief, 55 Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) bus services ran on the Kurla -BKC, Kurla- Mahul, Dadar- Mantralaya, Panvel- Mantralaya, CSMT- Mantralaya and Thane- Mantralaya routes; contractual buses, autorickshaws, taxis, app-based cabs also ferried passengers.

By afternoon, both the Central and Western Railways operated special services — western railway operated 12 special services on the Churchgate- Borivali, Chruchgate- Andheri and Churchgate- Gorgegaon routes, while the Central Railway operated four special trains on the Thane-CSMT, CSMT- Kalyan, Vashi- CSMT and CSMT - Panvel railway stations.

Despite this, there were long queues outside most railway stations.

First Published: Jan 09, 2019 09:17 IST

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