Best strike hangs by slender thread of written undertaking

Mumbai: The BEST strike looks set to spill onto day four with no prospect of the agitation petering out. Result: Not a single bus was seen on the city roads on Thursday and lakhs of commuters were simply clueless when their ordeal would end. The stalemate continued and there was no consensus on the charter of demands of the striking BEST unions despite late night negotiations.

The talks were attended by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Mayor of Mumbai and Sena corporator Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, leader of BEST Workers’ Union Shashank Rao, Guar-dian Minister of Mumbai Subhash Desai, Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta and union leaders owing allegiance to the Kruti Samiti. The noticeable absence in this meeting was Sena’s Bhartiya Kamgar Sena, which had backed out of the agitation on the second day itself.

Sources said while there was a general agreement on some demands, the BMC was not ready to commit to anything in writing. “Since no written assurance was forthcoming from the BMC Commissioner, the strike will go on,” said BEST Workers’ Union leader Shashank Rao. He added that he has already written to the Chief Minister and further course of action would be charted out on Friday in consultation with the striking workers.

The major sticking point were two demands – the merger of BEST and BMC budget and the upgrade in salary scales, said a highly placed sourced.Earlier, on Thursday, union leader Rao met Surendrakumar Bagde, BEST General Manager, but the discussion did not throw up a solution. In the course of the day, Bagde was also summoned by DK Jain, chief secretary of Maharashtra, to discuss the demands raised by the Kruti Samiti.Nearly 33,000 BEST employees have been on strike for three days; they are demanding higher salary, bonus and merger of the BEST budget with the BMC.

The notional loss to BEST on account of the strike is Rs nine crores. In another turn of events, the Municipal Mazdoor Union of the BMC has also come out in support of the BEST workers and are threatening to go on strike in solidarity from Saturday. In a crackdown, the state government had invoked Maharashtra Essential Services and Maintenance Act against striking BEST employees. The BEST administration had also issued the strikers eviction notices, asking them to vacate staff quarters.

Advocate Dutta Mane on Thursday filed a petition in the Mumbai High Court seeking a direction on the ongoing strike by the BEST workers’ ,union.Meanwhile, the Central Railway, the Western Railway, Mumbai Metro and Maharashtra Road State Transport Corporation (MSRTC) have introduced additional train and bus services to mitigate the hardship of passengers. In the midst of all this, a few commuters took to Twitter, even appealing to PM Narendra Modi to intervene and sought solutions to the ongoing strike.

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