Striking Workers of Mumbai’s Red BEST Bus face threat of losing Jobs: BMC

BEST employees who have been on a strike since 8 January 2019 have been charged with sections of the Essential Services Act and have reportedly also beeb threatened with loss of jobs and forced eviction from the site of protest. The strike has the support of citizens forums, organizations who want affordable public transport for Mumbaikars. Their main demand is that the merger of the BEST budget with the principal budget of the BMC would esnure that the interests of the vast majority of commuters would be protected, especially since the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) is committed to funding public transport at adequate levels as an essential municipal service. The Bombay High Court has also intervened asking the BEST Management to talk to the striking workers about their demands.

Citizens along with the BEST Workers Union have been arguing that, over the decades we have seen eroding of all public services like health, education, and transport and simultaneous promotion of private profit. The erosion of public transport actually threatens livelihood of people of Mumbai. Mumbai has witnessed 385% increase in two-wheeler traffic and 340% increase in private cars in last twenty years.  On other hand BEST ridership has seen sharp fall of 40% in the past seven years. Increase in private vehicles has caused tremendous traffic congestion, also leading to extreme pollution. Today cars and bikes occupy 77% of road space and BEST buses which can carry multiple times the riders occupy merely 2% of road space. BEST has been reducing the staff, bus fleet, closing down routes and at the same time increasing bus fare. In 2018 itself BEST increased tariff by 30%. BEST workers have called an indefinite strike on 8thJanuary 2019 in the face of continuing apathy from the management and state to resolve the issues and the government’s zeal to continue on the path of destruction of one of the premier bus services and pride of Mumbai city. 

Mumbai’s local train service which is the busiest commuter train service in world, carrying 7.5 million passenger every day, has been over crowded, leading to accidents and death of 10 persons every day. From 2002 till 2012 36,152 commuters have lost lives. Just last year 22 persons lost lives in crowded Elphinstone road station, due to stampede. How and why we are continuing to face this situation, without any solutions being found to strengthen the railway infrastructure and effectively alleviate the problems plaguing the rail network, used by maximum number of Mumbaikars.

On the other hand we have seen large investments being made to introduce new lines and expand the Mumbai Metro service – that is both unsustainable and inaccessible to large portion of the low income groups, working class and poor in Mumbai city, which gap is only bound to increase with the multiple price hikes. The Mumbai Metro line for North South also comes with irreversible environmental impact, at the cost of valuable green cover, stability of Mumbai city and the fate of its residents in the face of rapid sea level rise, Climate Change and increasing exposure to natural calamities and disasters. 
Instead of budgeting improvement in public transport we witness plan for Coastal Road’s South Phase costing over Rs 12,000 crore for the benefit of private transport. We also have seen Rs 1600 crore worli-sealink which caters to average 32312 vehicles per day. And now we have the miracle of bullet train appearing at cost of 1.1 lakh crore.

A Petition on this issue has also been started to support the striking workers. The petition may be signed here

The issues raised in the petition are:
BEST has raised bus fares steeply in recent years, to the level of share-taxi fares.
BEST management has discontinued more than one-fifth of the routes. BEST has also reduced the number of buses by more than 900 in four years, and 7200 staff positions scrapped.
The BEST management has stopped issuing or renewing bus passes.
The BEST management cancelled the new contract for e-ticketing machines in July, but has not initiated any replacement. 70-80% of the existing machines are out of order.
For over a year, the BEST management has failed to collect Rs 320 crore of dues from builders after giving them valuable depot land for ‘redevelopment’. And then they complain that BEST is losing money!
The BEST management proposes to chop up BEST and make two separate companies, one for buses, and another for electric supply. For more than 70 years, the electricity dept has assisted the bus department, serving the city well. Once the two are separated, the bus department will be unable to survive for lack of cash day to day. What will commuters do when BEST stops?
The BMC on its part is focused on the Coastal Road instead of bus priority lanes; private contractors instead of commuters; BEST’s so-called ‘inefficiencies’ instead of the city’s worsening pollution and congestion; convenience of private motorists instead of safe, affordable and sustainable public transport.
From all this it is clear that the BEST management is out to shrink the city’s bus services and even hand them over to private operators. Who will suffer? The millions of working people who rely on the bus system. The millions of citizens who will have to suffer increased car pollution.
We all have a right to affordable, frequent, speedy, safe, and comfortable public transport, for which a public bus system is essential. We all have the right to clean air.
Mumbaikars cannot afford to simply watch BEST die. We must act to stop BMC from implementing its policy of shrinking and shutting BEST! We must ask it to buy more buses, increase frequency, reduce fares, re-start closed routes, don’t privatise, revive BEST!



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