Quick Take

A transport strike in Telangana that needlessly boiled over

| Updated on October 21, 2019 Published on October 21, 2019

A file photo of a bus depot in Hyderabad. Employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation, led by the Telangana Mazdoor Union, began an indefinite strike on October 5 Nagara Gopal

The KCR government could have sorted out the agitation with negotations

One of the signs of good governance is to be accommodative where required, without viewing it as a loss of face. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, as tough and assertive a leader as any other on today’s political stage, has not displayed flexibility in dealing with the 50,000 striking employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation. In the process, most TSRTC services have been suspended since October 5, when the employees went on strike demanding parity of pay scales with State government employees and health insurance benefits, among other similar demands. KCR has argued that he will not succumb to ‘blackmail’— in other words, their striking work during the festive season. He has a point, but protests cannot be wished out of existence in a democracy. His contention that the employees have lost their jobs by not reporting to work since October 6, the deadline issued by him, seems peremptory, overblown and legally shaky.

 

However, KCR’s lack of sympathy for the striking staff is not without economic merit. The State Budget presented in September reveals strained finances, with the total expenditure for 2019-20, pegged at ₹1.46 lakh crore, being 9.1 per cent lower than the revised estimate for 2018-19. The projected receipts of the State for this year, at ₹1.13 lakh crore, are 10 per cent lower than the revised estimates for 2018-19. His allocations towards agriculture — thanks to Rythu Bandhu — social welfare and nutrition have increased sharply. He seems intent on directing funds towards rural development and welfare, rather to the organised sector.

In this scheme of things, the argument put forth by the striking employees that the KCR government intends to privatise TSRTC may not be baseless. It is, however, desirable to break up the Corporation into a number of entities, as Karnataka has done with its RTC. The city services should be under a separate entity. The privatisation of transport services, unless well regulated, can lead to unhappy outcomes such as a rise in accidents, and unruly driving and behaviour.

It remains to be seen whether KCR’s show of toughness works for him politically — even in this era of muscular politics. The High Court has rapped the government for not negotiating with the employees. Without taking away from his administrative acumen and socio-economic vision, his governance betrays a democracy deficit that needs to be corrected.

Published on October 21, 2019
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