Call a meeting, end strike: Bombay High Court tells BEST union

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the BEST Workers’ Union to “take the first step” towards resolving its dispute with the state and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and end the civic bus service employees’ strike, now in its fourth day. The court also asked the union to hold a meeting of its office-bearers in the evening in a bid to break the stalemate.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the Maharashtra government had set up a committee, headed by the chief secretary, to hold talks with the union. Secretaries of the urban development and transport departments are also part of this committee, he said.

BMC and Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) officials will also attend the meeting, he said. Lawyers of the BMC and the BEST said they were open to resolving the issues of the civic bus service employees as long as the union “cooperated” and stopped “holding a gun” to their heads.

At this, a bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and N M Jamdar noted that as the authorities had already constituted a committee and were willing to resolve the matter, the union must now make efforts to end the deadlock. “The city has a certain reputation. So many commuters are affected on a daily basis. You can’t hold the city to ransom in this manner by withholding essential services,” the bench said.

“You take the first step now. Call a meeting of all your members and others supporting you and take a decision to create a congenial environment and hold talks with the government,” it said.

Once the union holds the meeting and takes a “positive decision”, its representatives will meet the newly constituted government committee on Saturday morning, it added. Nearly 32,000 BEST employees are on an indefinite strike since Tuesday to press for demands including higher salaries, revision of pay scale for junior employees and merger of the budget of the loss making BEST with that of the BMC.

The court was hearing a PIL, filed by lawyer Datta Mane, seeking a direction to the BEST workers to call off the strike immediately.

The petitioner argued that the strike had resulted in much inconvenience to over 50 lakh commuters in the city as 3,700 BEST buses had gone off the road. The BMC and the BEST, through their counsels Anil Sakhre and Darius Khambatta, respectively, told the court that the state’s laws prohibit employees engaged in providing essential services from going on strike.

They said an industrial court had prohibited BEST workers from going on strike, therefore the strike had no legal sanction. They, however, agreed to hold a discussion with the union to come up with “long-term, comprehensive solutions”.

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