Hyderabad: With the strike by employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) entering 28th day on Friday, it became the longest strike in the history of the Corporation in the Telegu states.
Over 48,000 employees of the state-owned public transport utility are on strike since October 5 to press for their 26 demands. Their main demand is the merger of the TSRTC with the government so that they are treated at par with the government employees.
K. Chandrashekhar Rao-led government has, however, rejected the merger demand, saying it would lead to similar demands from 56 other corporations.
The longest strike in RTC was in 2011 when buses remained off the roads for 27 days and the employees of the then Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) from Telangana region joined ‘Sakala Janula Samme’ or the mass strike to demand statehood for Telangana.
The third major strike in APSRTC was witnessed in 2001 when employees struck the work for 24 days, demanding a pay revision.
According to leaders of Joint Action Committee (JAC) of TSRTC employees’ unions the current strike is the worst as 10 employees had lost their lives. While three workers committed suicide, others died due to cardiac arrest.
The JAC leaders have blamed the state government for the deaths, as the Chief Minister declared that the employees ‘dismissed themselves’ by not joining duties, drove them to depression. The striking employees were also facing financial problems as they had not been paid salaries for the month of September.
TSRTC, which has accumulated losses of Rs 1,200 crore, said it has no money to pay the September salaries. The Corporation told Telangana High Court that it has Rs 7 crore while over Rs 200 crore was required to pay for the salaries.
The Corporation is suffering daily a loss of Rs1 to Rs 1.5 crore due to the strike as TSRTC is managing to operate partial services with the help of temporary employees.
On the direction of the high court, the TSRTC last week held talks with the leaders of the striking workers on the 21 demands excluding the merger demand, but it failed to find any solution to the stalemate.
At the previous hearing on October 28, the High Court asked the government whether it can to provide Rs 47 crore to meet some demands of the employees to end the strike. However, the government expressed its inability to do so on the ground that it gave the Corporation more funds than what it owes.
The current spell of the strike also turned into a rallying point for the opposition and all groups opposed to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), thus posing the first major challenge to Chandrashekhar Rao since Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
Backed by the entire opposition, trade unions and students’ groups, the JAC had called for Telangana shutdown on October 19. This was the first shutdown against Chandrashekhar Rao, who had led many such protests during the Telangana movement.
At the public meeting organised by the JAC on October 30 in Hyderabad, the JAC and opposition leaders threatened a Million March like the one organised at the peak of the Telangana agitation. They slammed the Chief Minister for his adamant attitude and autocratic style of functioning.
KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, blamed the RTC union leaders and the opposition parties for the current situation. He remarked that the ‘TSRTC is finished and nobody can save it’. He said ‘by going on strike during festival season, the employees cut the very branch they were sitting on’.
Unfazed by the strike and the protests, the Chief Minister has asked the TSRTC officials to hire more private buses to run under the Corporation. He has also dropped hints of issuing permits to private operators. Though ruling out total privatisation of the TSRTC, he made it clear that the Corporation will not remain the same.