Draconian MESMA enacted against BEST bus workers as strike enters seventh day

PUCL urged the BEST management to immediately initiate talks with the striking workers to redress their grievances and the state government to strengthen public transport in Mumbai, instead of contributing to its destruction.

BEST Strike
Image Coutesy: Satish Bate/HT Photo

Mumbai: The BEST bus strike has entered its seventh day with over 32,000 BEST employees participating in the strike that has kept 3,200-odd buses off the roads. The Bombay High Court has criticised the workers of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) for continuing their bus strike.
Over 300 striking workers were issued notices by the state government under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) on Wednesday last week, allegedly warning them that they will be removed from their official accommodation if they failed to resume work.
The employees have been demanding a merging of the company’s budget with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), among other demands.
The BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti, a joint committee of many labour unions, have also demanded to resume appointments, more wages and resolving the concern of employee housing. The Bombay HC said the union was violating its orders and not negotiating appropriately, adding that the strike was inconveniencing the public, ANI reported. The BEST Union told the court that it was forced to remain on strike because the administration was refusing to comply with their demands, the news agency reported.
The Maharashtra state unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) demanded that the withdrawal of MESMA act against striking BEST employees and instead take steps to respond to the demands and alleviate the employee’s grievances at the earliest.
“PUCL Maharashtra learns that the BEST administration has issued eviction notices to striking BEST employees and is already trying to remove them and their families from their homes, on the second day of the indefinite strike called by BEST workers’ unions to press for their demands. Workers and their families cannot be penalised in this inhuman manner for exercising their right to protest and to strike, to press for their legitimate demands. PUCL Maharashtra urges the civic administration to withdraw the notices forthwith,” it said in a statement on January 9.
“The strike has been called to demand the merger of the BEST budget with the principal budget of the BMC, in addition to pressing for negotiations with the management on wages, resumption of appointments on compassionate grounds and bonus parity with BMS employees. The BEST Kruti Samiti, which is the umbrella body of all the BEST employees’ unions spearheading the strike, has also expressed fears that the administration is bringing in privatization through the back door and making a vital public transport service unaffordable and unsustainable,” the statement said.
PUCL Maharashtra expressed concern at the systematic dismantling of public transport in Mumbai and the destruction of the BEST, which was once Mumbai’s pride. “Alongside, several mega projects have been initiated throughout Maharashtra without any regard for the environmental damage, the loss of livelihood of the fishing community of Mumbai and the high cost of the multi-crore projects, which will ultimately be borne by all citizens. The state government has invested heavily in car-oriented infrastructure, but has systematically starved BEST and refused to invest in bus-based public transport (modernization of buses, integration between modes, dedicated bus lanes, bus depot and bus stops improvement, etc.) which has led to the decline of the service and its ridership. By reducing BEST services and scrapping routes the administration is causing harassment to commuters and residents of Mumbai,” Mihir Desai, Convenor, Ad-Hoc Committee, PUCL said.
No negotiations between the BEST union or the civic body have taken place so far, Hindustan Times reported.
The Union had said it would take a call on continuing its strike after it studies a panel report on the matter to the Bombay high court on Monday. A three-member panel led by chief secretary DK Jain held two separate meetings with union leaders and the BEST and BMC administration on Saturday. “We have not received any communication from the administration after the meeting,” Shashank Rao, president, BEST workers’ union, had told Hindustan Times.
Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi BEST (AMAB) an independent forum of citizens for public transport requested democratic rights organizations, civil society groups, unions, housing and livelihood rights campaigns, and all Mumbaikars, who have been affected as commuters, to extend their support and stand in solidarity with striking workers.
“AMAB outlined a workable, inexpensive, and efficient approach for the revival of the BEST’s bus services. We have shown how BEST can (1) Increase bus ridership, (2) Improve BEST’s service quality and reliability, (3) Improve its coverage and access. For almost two years now, we have been asking for an appointment with the Municipal Commissioner Mr. Ajoy Mehta to explain our plan – that includes means of financing operations, subsidies, the introduction of bus priority lanes, integration between different transport modes, the planned expansion of the fleet, etc. However, our repeated requests and proposals have been ignored,” said Vidyadhar Date, Convenor, AMAB.
“It is clear that the BMC and the government do not want to hear or consider any sensible means to address the problems of the city’s affordable public transport service. They continue to remain dogmatic, autocratic and tightfisted – pushing through their privatization plans, refusing to subsidize and finance its operations, cutting down routes, increasing bus fares, and denying workers their dues,” he added.



Related Articles