Relief for Mumbai commuters as BEST drivers, conductors call off strike
BEST drivers and conductors have called off their flash strike with immediate effect after arriving at a solution with the management over implementation of the new computerised scheduling system
Mumbai: BEST bus drivers and conductors on Wednesday evening withdrew their flash strike after they arrived at a solution with the management over implementation of the new computerised scheduling system.
Thousands of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) bus drivers and conductors had gone on a flash strike on Tuesday against the new system and had refused to report to work despite an order from the Bombay High Court.
A meeting chaired by Maharashtra Chief Secretary J S Saharia with BEST General Manager Om Prakash Gupta and union head Sharad Rao on Wednesday helped in resolving the issue.
Saharia said bus services will resume immediately as they have withdrawn their strike.
Buses piled up at the Mumbai Central BEST depot due to the strike yesterday. Pics/Suresh KK
"My first priority was that they should withdraw their strike as it had caused tremendous inconvenience to commuters," he added.
Following their refusal to resume work on Tuesday, BEST on Wednesday again moved a division bench headed by Chief Justice Mohit Shah against the strike.
The court was later informed by BEST counsel M P S Rao that the strike has been called off following meetings between the management and union members.
"The matter has been resolved. The implementation of the new computerised scheduling system has been postponed till June 1. However, as pilot project the system will be implemented at the Malad depot to see what difficulties arise," Rao said.
The High Court accepted the statement and said, "Since the parties have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, we direct the BEST union to issue instructions to all its members to resume work immediately. The workers shall also be asked not resort to such strikes in future."
"We do not want to encourage such strikes. In fact, we wanted the state government to take action against the workers under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA). People are inconvenienced. But we wanted the issue to be worked out," the court noted.
If the locals are Mumbai’s lifeline, the BEST buses are its veins. But a strike on Tuesday halted all activity of this crucial civic organ, shooting up blood pressures in direct proportion to the extortionate fares that cabbies and autowallahs quoted in its wake.
The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply And Transport (BEST) management claimed that drivers and conductors who called for the stop-work remonstrance had misunderstood the new work policy, and thus, went on strike thinking they would have to work longer hours.
The authority failed to redeem the situation or get through to the union leader. And it doesn’t seem like the disorder would straighten out today, with union leader Sharad Rao hinting that the drivers may continue the strike. The morning yesterday was maddening for people, who kept standing at bus stops waiting for their ride, and finally realising that the buses would not ply.
After the public holiday on Monday, Tuesday was the first working weekday for many. But the public, including schoolchildren, could not get to their destinations. Surprisingly, the general manager of the BEST, OP Gupta, also came to know of the flash strike at 8 am yesterday.
Shared rickshaws and taxis pounced on the opportunity to fleece passengers, after stuffing them in their vehicles. They ferried as many as five commuters in one ride. Even the regular cabs and autos were overcharging, citing inadequate gas in their vehicles and the numerous passengers ready to pay more.
Until morning, the BEST had managed to run eight buses, of which one was damaged after a pelting incident in Kandivli (W). By afternoon, two more buses got on the road. To get the services up and running, the BEST management approached the High Court, which declared the strike illegal and directed bus unions to resume work to end the tremendous inconvenience to people. But there was no improvement in the situation till evening.
Sources said that they couldn’t invoke the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) as the period during which it can be invoked had expired. Senior BEST officials said, “We then took permission and revived it in the evening.” The buses slowly made their way back on the roads.
Schoolchildren get late for final exams
School students were stranded on Tuesday morning, when the BEST drivers and conductors went on a strike, putting the kids and their parents in a tight spot, as they had no inkling of the strike. The bus drivers and conductors didn’t realise that the final examinations were going on in schools across the city.
Marooned by the BEST, people stood interminably in snaking queues at taxi stands
After waiting for half an hour, the parents of students who take the civic service to school gave up hope and scampered to make to school in time. While some rushed to catch taxis, a few dropped their children on bikes and friend’s vehicles. Some working parents had to take leave just to drop their kids to school, so they didn’t miss out on the final exams.
A total of 321 BEST services are provided exclusively for school-going kids in the city. Mayur Jadhav, Std IX student, Raje Shivaji Vidyalaya (King George School), Dadar, who resides in Sion, said, “I am waiting for my father to come and take me home.
I take the BEST bus every day to school. But early morning today, I saw on news channels that the buses are on strike, and I rushed to the school in a taxi. Today, I had my practical exams, as well extra classes for the next academic year.”
Sion’s Sandesh Golatkar, father of Shrushti, a Std III student of the same school, said, “My daughter had her English exam today. When I came to drop her at the stop and the bus didn’t come for half an hour, I went to the depot to check if there was a strike.
Then, I had to take my daughter to school because her final-year exams are going on, and also pick her up. I had to take leave from work for this. The BEST drivers have the contact numbers of parents, and they should have informed us about this strike, which would have saves us a lot of panic and vexation.”
Children cross the bus stop outside the Bandra railway station and make their way to school; many have final exams going on. Pic/Satyajit Desai
Sharwari Deolekar, a parent from Worli, said, “Because of the exams, I had to drop my son to school and bring him back in a taxi. We live near the highway and when I saw no buses were plying, I thought there could be a strike.”
Sanket Kotkar, brother of Soham, a Std IV student, said, “I brought my brother and his few friends on bike when I realised that the BEST is on strike. For half an hour we waited for the bus, then rushed to the school on the bike.”
BEST overworking drivers, says union leader Rao
But authority says drivers and conductors worked for longer hours before April 1
The BEST flash strike yesterday occurred owing to differences of opinion between the undertaking and the drivers’ unions. The administration called union leader Sharad Rao for a meeting at 11 am, but he refused to show up. “We were asked to come, over a telephone call.
This is not how one approaches a talk. Also, the administration breached the promises it made on February 26,” said Rao. “In case the authorities take stern action against the bus drivers, our auto unions could also join the protest,” he said ominously.
The roads were packed with three-wheelers, which saw a surge in business as people were left with no option but to commute in autos, if not cabs. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Rao accused the enterprise of torturing the drivers and conductors by making them work for 12 hours, and giving them inadequate breaks. He claimed that the depot managers forced the drivers and conductors to sign their work cards (see box) two days ago and intimidated them, because of which “some of them suffered health problems including cardiac issues.”
But the management claims that the new schedule will, in fact, help the work culture. According to the officials, on March 1, 627 people worked for 11-12 hours in a day, with breaks. But as per the revised schedule on April 1, only half the number of workers would have to work for such a long duration.
“Until recently, the union members had no problem talking over the phone,” said BEST GM OP Gupta, adding, “In any case, the schedule is good for the employees.” The BEST is expected to save at least 5 per cent on labour costs, which is a lion’s share of their overall expenditure.