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Transport strike: Opposition flays TRS Govt for plans to remove 50,000 RTC staff

K V Kurmanath/ M Somasekhar | Updated on October 08, 2019 Published on October 08, 2019

A file picture of a bus depot in Hyderabad on Saturday, when employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation, led by the Telangana Mazdoor Union (TMU), began an indefinite strike. Photo: Nagara Gopal   -  Nagara [email protected]

With the Telangana Government and the State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) toughening their respective stands, the two sides are on a collision course.

The debt-ridden Corporation faces a severe crisis, weighed down as it is by a host of issues including ageing buses, manpower, poor performance efficiencies and competition from the growing private operators.

Meanwhile, the state-wide strike by the RTC employees entered a fourth day on Tuesday, with no solution in sight. The fate of over 50,000 striking employees hangs in the balance, even as the strike upset the travel plans of lakhs of people during the Bathukamma and Dasara festivals in Telangana and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

The initially belligerent Chief Minister, K Chandrashekar Rao, announced that about 50,000 employees had ‘dismissed themselves’ from service by going ahead with the strike by violating the Government deadline.

Interestingly, the RTC staff struck work from October 5, a day after KCR met Prime Minister Narendra Modi (his first in 2019, and more importantly the first in Modi’s second term) in New Delhi and submitted memorandums on 22 issues concerning the funding of flagship projects, central schemes and pending projects.

The Chief Minister’s response to the striking staff was tough -- he issued a warning that those who did not report to duty by 6 pm on Saturday would cease to be employees of the RTC.

However, at a meeting held on Monday night, the Chief Minister refuted allegations that the government had dismissed 50,000 employees en masse for resorting to the strike.

“From the point of view of the government and RTC, the present strength of employees is only 1,200 (implying the the rest of the employees had lost their jobs.) There is no need for the government to dismiss others. They have left by themselves. As they did not report to duty before the expiry of the deadline, they have dismissed themselves,” KCR said.

Privatisation talks

Scotching widely circulating reports that the Government intends to privatise the RTC, the Chief Minister said: “We have no interest in totally privatising the RTC. The RTC, as an organisation, would definitely stay. Making the RTC a private entity is not a wise action.”

Sensing an opportunity to force the government on the backfoot, the opposition parties in Telangana have flayed KCR and the TRS Government for mishandling the strike. They have alleged that the government was trying to privatise the corporation.

Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President, Uttam Kumar Reddy, said the Congress Party would stand by the striking employees, and asked them to continue the strike till their demands were met. He alleged that the State Government was using undemocratic methods to scuttle the strike and the decision to remove the staff was unjust.

Demands

The RTC employees are demanding the merger of the corporation with the government, and revision of pay scales. The unions have asked the government to fill up vacancies, and to replace hired buses with their own buses. They want the government to exempt the corporation from Motor Vehicle Taxes and reimburse the fare subsidies offered to some sections of the public. Post-retirement, the staff want general health insurance (Aarogyasri) coverage and white ration cards.The unions also demanded that women RTC employees should be given maternity leave on a par with their peers in the government.

Financial situation

The TSRTC reported a loss of Rs 928 cr during fiscal 2018-19. It received a meagre Rs 114 cr as grant from the state government for 2019. The interest outgo on its huge debt itself amounts to Rs 365 cr and with the support from the government gradually decreasing, its financial woes have been multiplying fast.

Alternate plans

Though the Government has claimed that it is making alternative arrangements, its fleet strength and the number of, drivers and conductors it has mustered, is way lower than the requirement . According to estimates, about one crore people depend on buses to travel to and from their native places during the festival. Normally, during the Dasara season, the RTC hires 2,000 additional buses. But this time, the Government could rope d in only a quarter of that number.

Revanth Reddy, Congress MP, criticised the Chief Minister for terming the strike illegal. “To go for a strike is their right. They have given notice in keeping with the rules. The government failed to resolve the issue, which has resulted in the strike,” he said.

The Congress leader reminded him of the Sakala Janula Samme (general strike) during the Congress rule before the bifurcation of the State. “The RTC employees had a pivotal role in making the strike a huge success, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the State,” he said.

Bharatiya Janata Party Telangana unit President K Laxman also objected to the Government’s decision to dismiss employees from service. He alleged that the Corporation had ended up with huge losses because of the inept handling by the State.

Government plans

The Government has hinted at part privatisation of the bus services. It says about 5,200 buses, or 50 per cent of the total fleet, which is owned by the RTC, would continue to work under the Corporation. “About 30 per cent, or 3,100 buses, had been taken on hire. These buses would also be run by the RTC. The remaining (about 2,100), which are completely private, would be allowed to ply as State Carriages,” a government official said.

“Buses taken on hire and the Stage Carriage buses will also run on the city routes. Both RTC and private charges will be uniform, and will be under the RTC’s control,” he said.

The Chief Minister blamed the RTC unions of ‘over action’ for the present situation . “They have cut the branch of the tree on which they were sitting,” he said.

Social media

Meanwhile, social media has witnessed intense arguments between the supporters of the strike and its opponents. While the pro-strike handles have circulated videos of KCR’s pre-bifurcation speeches that contained several promises to the RTC staff, the anti-strike handles argue that the loss-making corporation could not afford a hike.

Published on October 08, 2019
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