The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) has truly been lifeline of Mumbai who have been operating buses since day 1 of the lockdown since last year. However, the conditions back then and now have not changed much or rather have worsened. At a time when the Maharashtra government is urging to ‘Break The Chain’, the men behind successful running of public transportation system ferrying people on essential duties, are unable to maintain social distancing inside bus depots.
Currently, the organisation is headless as the previous General Manager Surendra Bagde got transferred to Delhi while additional charge has been given to Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velarasu. The drivers and conductors of BEST are working in poor condition, the halls meant for resting purpose inside bus depots are overcrowded, the toilets are not in best on conditions and there is not enough space for staffs to ensure social distance inside bus depots.
The unions claim that the situation has gone so bad that there are hardly any sanitizers and thermal scanning machines at these bus depots. The employees from various depots of Kurla, Anik, Ghatkopar depots among the few; have even posted photos on social media. “There is barely any attention given towards the welfare of bus drivers and conductors who spend their entire work time at depots sitting idle. The number of bus services have come down, still the number of drivers and conductors are in full strength,” said a BEST employee and union leader.
The videos and images show these drivers and conductors sitting next to each other, though there is a notice board that states that social distancing should be maintained. The staffs are lying on carpets close to each other even as people are sitting close by. “Due to Covid-19, many of the BEST employees have died. The virus is causing danger to lives of BEST employees as well,” said Sunil Ganacharya, BEST Committee member.
According to the BEST administration there have been over 3,310 Covid cases in their organisation that claimed lives of more than 90 employees. “At present there are at least 80 active cases. We have given jobs to the nearest kin of 75 of these employees and even paid compensation of Rs 50 lakh each to them,” said a BEST official. They have provided vaccination to 26,000 employees out of the total 34,000; at least 10,000 of them have even got their second dosage.