MUMBAI: For about 16 hours Monday, as sisters went over to tie rakhis to brothers, Mumbai’s BEST buses stayed in their hangars as the transport utility’s staff decided that a day-long sulk was the only way to get the management to pay their salaries on time.
The strike ended in the afternoon but the impact of the morning’s dislocation of the continued into the late evening. As BEST’s bloated 36,000 staff stayed away and its 3800 buses stayed parked in depots, more than 30 lakh commuters had to dig into their famous reserves to go about their business. For rakhi sisters, for whose benefit the transporter had promised to run 210 more buses on the day, the strike was a dampener. The city’s normally jam-packed trains resembled rolling sardine tins during rush hour and Uber and Ola prices surged a little higher.
Long into the afternoon, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, whose party rules the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), stepped in and the employees union yielded to his persuasion and called off the strike.
The Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) is a supposedly autonomous body under the BMC, but the Shiv Sena effectively runs it by virtue of its nominees to the BEST executive committee.
The transport utility has been bleeding for years due to ever-rising fuel bills and declining passenger support. In its budget last year, it ran up a deficit of Rs 590 crore and its losses have escalated to Rs 2500 crore.
The electricity arm of BEST used to cross-subsidise the indulgences of the transport division but the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) stepped in and put paid to it. Consequently, salaries began to be delayed and the Raksha Bandhan strike on Monday was a distress call by employees as much as a show of belligerence.
The meekness was evident in the manner in which the strike folded upon Uddhav Thackeray’s ay so. “I promised during the recent BMC elections that the BEST budget would be clubbed with the BMC budget. Though the process is not easy, I told the employees that we shall pursue the issue,” said the Shiv Sena boss.
That is easier said than done. The clubbing of the BEST and BMC budgets would require amendments to the law, which is a power the state government holds and the Shiv Sena’s relations with the BHP is government are blow hot blow cold.
Thackeray also promised BEST workers that their salaries would be paid in the first week of the month from now on. It’s a promise, but that seemed to have been enough for the BEST unions. “We were seeking a written assurance till yesterday. But we decided to honour Uddhavji’s word,” said Shahshank Rao, president of the Joint action committee of the employee unions.
Shashank Rao is the son of the late socialist union leader Sharad Rao who dominated the BEST and BMC employee unions in his time.
No. of staff: 36,000
No of buses: 3800
Bus : staff ratio: 9.6
1. Traffic congestion
2. Poor frequency
3. Poor occupancy
4. Political interference
5. Poor staff morale