Mumbai: With the ongoing Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) strike set to enter its eighth day, without a resolution in sight, the loss incurred by the BEST for each day has been about Rs 3 crore, or Rs 21 crore for the week. The BEST owes the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), other bodies and the court more than Rs 7,500 crore. Despite all these problems faced by the loss-making entity, the BEST is the proverbial goose that lays golden eggs.
The Sena has ruled the BMC for over three decades. “Being the richest municipal corporation in Asia, it is a major source of money for the ruling Shiv Sena. The BEST is effectively used by the Sena to show losses, thus balancing the riches of the BMC,” said a politician from one of the opposition parties.
The leader accused the Sena and the BJP for extenuating the losses deliberately, through disastrous decisions such as the purchase of 200 air-conditioned buses in 2007, faulty ticket vending machines, mismanagement, poor calculation and ADLR court cases in the Bombay High Court, he said. According to a BEST official, “How can the BEST administration cope with the additional burden of Rs 900 crore without the BMC’s help? In the present scenario, it is impossible for the BEST to continue without the civic body’s help.”
Unionism has played an important role in the history of Mumbai. The BEST is no exception to this and being the second-most used form of transport, it can practically cripple the city’s commuters. The late union leader Sharad Rao wielded considerable clout over Mumbai’s transport and conservancy unions. Now, this legacy is being carried forward by his son Shashank. The issues of employees — wage hikes, bonuses, timely payment of salaries — provide an opportunity for Rao to capitalise on the anger of the employees, a source from BEST said.
“The BMC has sanctioned reforms, which include wet-leasing buses and also cutting down certain staff allowances. But this was not implemented, upsetting the employees and families,” said the source. Rao is playing on these sentiments to fulfil his political ambitions, he adds. “The economic flux created by the Sena-BJP alliance to show losses is being used by Rao as an opportunity to build his political fortune in the ongoing strike”, said a source.