The BEST strike enters its third day
Lakhs of commuters faced hardship as over 32,000 employees of Mumbai's civic transport undertaking kept away from work for the second day on Wednesday, with the indefinite strike set to continue for the third day.
The administration cracked the whip, issuing notices to over 2,000 staffers of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) to vacate houses provided by the undertaking. It also held dialogue with union leader Shashank Rao, but it did not yield any positive outcome.
Mr Rao, leader of the BEST Workers' Union that has called the strike, said it would continue on Thursday as the talks were not fruitful.
"There were few rounds of meetings with officials, but no positive result came as the administration did not pay heed to our genuine demands…. We are ready to sit and talk even in midnight," he said.
Despite the Shiv Sena-affiliated union, BEST Kamgar Sena, withdrawing from the protest, only 11 buses plied on the roads on Wednesday, an official said.
Mr Rao lashed out at the BEST Kamgar Sena leaders for their "betrayal".
BEST general manager Surendra Kumar Bagde said the administration was again and again appealing to the employees to resume duty.
"Under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA), we have issued notices to the agitating workers to vacate their flats given by the BEST as they have indulged in a strike, which has been held as illegal by the court. But, this is something that we don't want to do. We request all our workers to resume duty and have dialogue with us," Mr Bagde said.
BEST employees started the indefinite strike on Tuesday over various demands, including higher salaries and merger of the budget of the loss-making undertaking with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Congress MLA Nitesh Rane and Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have extended support to the agitating workers.
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 buses, which criss-cross the metropolis and also operate services in the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai. It is the second-biggest mode of transport in Mumbai after local trains, which ferry over 80-lakh passengers every day.
The protest by BEST employees coincided with the two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions to protest against the government's alleged anti-worker policies and labour reforms.
The strike, declared "illegal" by an industrial court in Mumbai, affected nearly 25-lakh daily commuters on Tuesday.
Pramod Tamane, a Ghatkopar resident who travels to Wadala everyday by a BEST bus, sought to know how the government was planning to end the stalemate.
"This is too much. How can a few people be allowed to paralyse the city? What is the government doing to address this? It seems busy preparing for elections and has forgotten about the innocent citizens," he said.
Meanwhile, the Central Railway and Western Railway have decided to operate additional suburban trains for the convenience of commuters.