BEST employees are demanding better wages and working terms along with the merger of BEST and BMC budgets
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's seven-hour meeting has failed to resolve the BEST strike in Mumbai which has entered its fourth day on Friday. Mr Thackeray held meetings on Friday as well to try and end what is now the longest ever bus strike in the city.
Commuting problems of around 25 lakh Mumbai residents continued on Friday. More than 3,000 Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) buses won't run as the unions have dug their heels in and refused to budge.
The impact of the strike is being felt at several railway stations where BEST operates feeder services. Share taxis and autos are however filling in at several places for the missing buses that are a regular feature on Mumbai's roads. BEST is the largest transport provider in the city after the suburban trains that run from the city's north to south.
BEST employees are demanding better wages and working terms along with the merger of BEST and BMC budgets as the loss-making entity struggles with its finances with a debt of around Rs. 2,000 crore. Employees say the management is not interested in running the operations efficiently and want to sell out to private operators. The proposal to merge the BEST and BMC, one of the richest municipal bodies in Asia, is yet to be cleared by the state government and this remains a sticking point between the unions and BEST management.
Meanwhile, the unions have said that BEST hasn't even bothered to recover around Rs 320 crore as redevelopment rights fee. Eight years ago the undertaking had allowed builders to construct residential and commercial structures at bus depots in premium locations for a redevelopment fee. BEST officials say the amount has been disputed by the real estate firms and that has caused delay in payments due to the undertaking.
A PIL has been filed in the Bombay High Court on Thursday seeking directions to BEST workers to end the strike and return to work so that operations can resume.
The government has also threatened to invoke the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act of 2017. This law allows the government to take coercive steps to end strikes to maintain essential services like transport. Eviction notices have been issued to the staff and residential quarters of the employees.