Get ready for roadblocks to your daily routine today, as the NDA – including parties like the BJP, Shiv Sena and the Republican Party of India (RPI) – prepare to take to the streets to wage a ‘Bharat Bandh’ in protest of petrol price hike and rising inflation. Transport services that are the most likely to be affected, as auto rickshaws, taxis and buses will wait and watch before driving out and rescue stricken commuters.
Thankfully, the railway authorities have assured undisrupted train services. The one-day strike is in response to the steep hike in the petrol prices to Rs 78 per litre, the fifth such hike in the span of a single year. The winds of unrest were already blowing yesterday, as members from different political factions flooded various junctions and signals, wielding angry hoardings and placards protesting the hike. Political leaders confidently promised that they would shut the city down, predictions that spelt gloom for every busy Mumbaikar. “A Bharat Bandh means everything will be shut. This will include all modes of transportation — trains, taxis and autos. Only the fire brigade, water services and hospitals will be working. If there are any university examinations scheduled for May 31, we will request the varsity to postpone them so that students are not affected,” Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut had told MiD DAY earlier.
For those stepping for their daily commutes, it could be a long and winding way to work, school or college today. Taxis and auto rickshaw unions gave the usual assurances of uninterrupted service. However, these promises do little to inspire confidence, given that drivers claimed that they would take stock of the situation before deciding whether to ply or not.
“We have informed our members and drivers to ply their auto rickshaws as they do normally every day. We are not participating in the strike,” said Shashank Rao, member of the Mumbai Auto Rickshaw Men’s Union. About 1.04 lakh autos ply in the eastern and western suburbs. Most drivers claimed that they would stay on the roads. However, in case of violence from the protestors and rival unions, they could go off the roads later. Taxi unions gave reassurances that the black and yellow cabs would faithfully take to the streets to bail out bandh-stricken commuters. A Quadros, taxi union leader, however, exercised caution, saying, “Taxi drivers will finally decide whether or not to ply, although we are not participating in the strike.”
Fleet cabs too are likely to be affected or at least short in supply. “We are not participating in the strike,” said Rajesh Puri, president, Association of Radio Cab Operators (ARCO) and CEO of Meru Cabs. There is hopeful news in store for bus regulars. BEST plans to keep 150 buses as buffer, in case of emergencies across the city and suburbs. “We have asked all the depot managers to run buses as per the situation. These buses will be fitted with grills to prevent damage in case of violence,” said a senior BEST official, on condition of anonymity. The BEST has a beleaguered fleet of 4,700 buses, of which nearly 300 stay off the roads daily, for maintenance and other purposes. The lifeline of Mumbai will run as usual on Western and Central Railways. Both these railways operate around 2,800 suburban train services every day. There will be additional railway police posted across 170-odd suburban railway stations.
You and your family may have to make do with leftovers or stale produce from the local market – the supply of essential commodities to various retail markets and shopping malls is likely to be affected, even though parties have so far maintained that they wouldn’t be targeting essential services. “The supply of essential commodities might be affected, as drivers fear that their vehicles could be targeted,” said Bal Malkit Singh, president, All India Motor Transport Congress.
If you are absolutely insistent on fresh produce, you may have to give your local markets a wide berth and hazard a trip to wholesale markets like APMC through the bandh-ridden streets. Supplies like vegetables, fruits, grocery supplies and milk may be scarce at the retail markets, where fresh produce may fail to reach. Sudhir Tungar, additional commissioner and secretary, Mumbai APMC, said, “We have not received any notice about the bandh yet. So our markets will be operational tomorrow. Most of the products in our market are nonperishable. Fruits have a life span of about a week. There could be losses in the vegetable market as the vegetables are delivered the previous night and don’t have a long shelf-life.”
Sunil Kale, president, Bombay Goods Transport Association (BGTA) said, “The political parties have called for this bandh so we have no option but to support it. As such, a hike in petrol price does not affect our transport system, apart from individual usage. At any point of day around 2,000 trucks enter the city at any given octroi point.” An approximate of 8,000 vehicles entering the city carrying different kind of goods would be affected owing to this bandh.
No blocked airways?
Those who have inbound flights scheduled for tomorrow need not worry. The Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd (MIAL) will be operating four buses to transport passengers from the domestic and international terminals up to Vile Parle and Andheri railway stations and the closest BEST bus stands.
6 am onwards, two coaches at the international terminal — 2B and 2C — and two coaches at the domestic terminals — 1A and 1B — will be deployed to transport passengers to both Vile Parle and Andheri railway stations. The coaches will leave at intervals of 20-30 minutes. Pick up and drop points have been earmarked at all terminals of the airport — behind the BEST bus stop, near the taxi stands on terminals 1A and 1B, and under the flyover at terminal 2B and 2C.
College and exams
A word of advice for unprepared students, the one section of the city’s population who are hoping to benefit from the bandh: keep the preparations going. Exams scheduled for today by the University of Mumbai will be held as per schedule. More than 25,000 students are expected to appear at 60 different engineering colleges. Most of the engineering colleges are situated in Navi Mumbai and Thane district. Vinod Malale, Mumbai University Public Relation Officer, said, “We cannot reschedule the exams, but we appeal to students to either approach the closest college or leave as early as possible to reach on time for their exam.” Meanwhile Dr Pravin Shingare, chief of Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER), said, “I have not received any letter about rescheduling medical exams. In case there are any problems due to the bandh, we will try to help the students.”
The control room numbers are 108, 22694725 and 22694727.
Railway: 1275 and 1274
Airport: 66851351 (Terminal 1A), 26261149 (Terminal 1B), 66850222
The bandh may even stymie your dependable dabbawalas for the day, so carry your lunch box yourself. The tiffin carriers wont be supplying lunch boxes to various offices. Raghunath Medge, president, Mumbai Dabbawala Association, said, “Our dabba service has been called off due to the Bharat Bandh. Due to the bandh most of the customers going to office will prefer to stay home. So there won’t be any need for our service.”
If you’re planning to make the most of the unplanned holiday by stepping into your favourite joint, look before you leap. Hotels and restaurants across the city will play it by ear, and may shut down if there is threat if violence. Sudhakar Shetty, president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) said, “We have not called for a bandh but last minute decisions will be taken by individual restaurant owners. We do not want to create problems for people but we are definitely against the steep rise in petrol prices which is also going to affect our industry to a large extent.”
Fear not, these will be operating as usual.
Water supply, waste disposal
The BMC has promised that the strike wouldn’t affect water supply and collection of dumped waste. The solid waste management department has been informed to appoint sufficient people in the morning and evening shifts to collect and dump the garbage and keep the roads clean.
No shopping for you today: the malls are likely to remain closed for the first half of the bandh, as they wait and watch.
Adil Malia, Group president (HR), Essar Group said, “We have not declared a holiday in our office. We have instructed our employees to take the most comfortable route possible to reach office. In case there is a genuine inconvenience faced by any of the employees, they are free to take a call.” Rajeev Dubey, HR head, Mahindra & Mahindra said, “We have not officially declared a holiday for the employees. We have asked them to commute to the office as per their convenience. In case they decide not to work, they would have to take official leave.”
DCP Nisar Tamboli, spokesperson, Mumbai Police, said, “We are fully prepared to handle the situation. Maximum force has been deployed to ensure the safety of the common people. We called back all the personnel on leave. We have also called for 3,100 additional forces. SRPF, Rapid Action Force and Riot Control Police will also be deployed on the roads. There is no need for the masses to fear any cases of violence. We will also ensure complete safety of all the autos and taxis that would be providing service to the people.”
Today’s bandh will definitely create lots of problems for the common man. Forcing autos and taxis from plying on the roads will definitely hamper the lifeline of the city. With offices not declaring a holiday, it will become impossible for employees to commute from their residence to the office. Protesting the petrol price hike is necessary, but not by troubling the common man by enforcing a bandh.
Mukesh Waghela, Private company employee, Mankhurd
I have a friend of mine arriving tomorrow at 4 in the morning. Not allowing autos and taxis to ply in order to enforce the bandh will create a lot of inconvenience to the public. I am also forced to postpone a professional shoot that was scheduled today, which has led to difficulties in the availability of the actors.
Ayushi Sinha, Production house employee, Andheri
A bandh affects so many aspects of the daily routine. Crippling the city may actually be harmful to our economy. Alternative peaceful methods have to be found, rather than a complete shutdown.
Mayur Tare, Civil engineer