(Photo by Bhushan Koyande)
(Photo by Bhushan Koyande)

Buses have been off Mumbai roads as over 33,000 employees of the city’s civic transport undertaking, Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) are on an indefinite strike since January 8 over their demands, including higher wages.

The strike is being assumed to have caused inconvenience to nearly 25 lakh daily commuters. The civic transport undertaking is already facing a cash crunch, and this latest strike may cause a loss of Rs 3 crore per day. The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 red-colour 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.

Meanwhile, the Central Railway, Western Railway and the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) were operating extra local trains and buses to ferry the stranded passengers to their destinations.

What are the demands?

The main demand of BEST employees is to merge the BEST budget with the annual BMC budget.

The employees are demanding higher salaries.

Deliberations on new wage agreement

Resuming appointments on compassionate grounds

A bonus equivalent to that of the civic body’s employees.

Why is BEST management not agreeing to union’s demands?

There is a loan of Rs 25,000 crores currently on BEST

Every month, there is a need to borrow a loan to get the salary of the employees

The transportation department’s income of one day is Rs 3 crore and the expenditure is Rs 6 crore

What did Bombay High Court say?

The Bombay High Court, while hearing a petition filed against the strike on Thursday, observed that the BEST union is not negotiating properly and also violating the court orders. The BEST union, however, defended their stance, saying they were compelled to go on strike as the BEST is not ready to accept their demands.

What did Maharashtra government do?

The state government invoked the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) after the strike affected nearly 25 lakh daily commuters. Essential Services Maintenance (ESMA) was established to ensure the delivery of certain services which, if obstructed, would affect the normal life of the people.

Special Buses

In the meantime, the government has attempted to ease the commuters’ misery by deploying extra Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses and school buses besides the Western Railway and Central Railway chipping in with extra train services.

What Shiv Sena said?

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said his party will fulfil its promise to merge the budget of the transport undertaking with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The Sena controls the BMC apart from being a partner in the BJP-led Maharashtra government. Talking about BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta hinting at privatisation as an option, Thackeray said it could not be the final solution. “We will not let the ownership slip away from us (BMC). There could be privatisation of few buses but no final decision has been taken yet,” he said.