Mumbai: BEST in a fix as 120 wet lease drivers strike again

Mumbai: The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) is unable to manage its buses riding on wet lease. On May 7, over 120 staffers working for wet lease operators went on a sudden protest – with an equal number of buses going off the road. A similar protest took place in the first week of April.

The idea of getting buses on wet lease was introduced by former BEST general manager, Surendra Bagde, who was recently transferred. The problems started on Thursday. According to BEST union members, some staff working for wet lease bus operators were terminated.

On Friday, the wet lease bus drivers went on a protest from 6am at Colaba, Wadala and Bandra depots. “Some of our colleagues were terminated. So we decided to not go to work. We are also being underpaid,” said a driver working for a wet lease operator.

Sources in BEST said that these drivers were disallowing other wet lease drivers from entering which led to people standing in groups outside the depots. The mini-AC buses were left out inside the depots and did not come out as per schedule. Across the city, the BEST has replaced their own buses with wet lease ones. “There were 121 buses on wet lease – namely the AC buses – which didn’t leave depots. We replaced them with our bus fleet to prevent inconvenience to passengers,” said a BEST official.

The drivers claim that their salaries as told by the contractor are around Rs 21,000 to Rs 22000 but they get only Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000. They also claim working overtime daily as BEST is running at least 90 per cent of its fleet to cater to people on essential duties as trains are not available for all.

“These are not times for such protests to happen. We are already running buses without standees so there is limited carrying capacity. I have asked the administration to investigate and take necessary action. This has caused inconvenience to Mumbaikars,” said Ashish Chemburkar, Chairman, BEST Committee.

The BEST has 1150 buses on wet lease which are operated by private agencies on behalf of the Undertaking. The situation is such that if these buses go off road, then the BEST has little control on them as the matter is between the staff and contractors. The BEST has close to 2,300 of its own bus fleet which has come down from 3,300. “This is absolutely wrong. It seems like BEST has no or little control on the wet lease operators. How can their staff go on sudden protest and the administration simply blames it on operators,” asked Ravi Raja, Opposition leader at BMC and BEST Committee member.

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