Sick drivers behind ailing BEST services?

Apr 25, 2012, 07:16 IST | Shashank Rao

Administration clamps down on employee absenteeism; drivers claim they are forced to work even when ill, fearing action; say this may lead to more mishaps in days to come

Rising temperatures, in more ways than one, appear to be behind the less-than-satisfactory performance of BEST buses in recent times. Over the past few days, a number of accidents involving these buses have been reported; in many cases the drivers manoeuvring these red giants have been found responsible. However, the drivers and their unions have a different take. They say the number of mishaps has gone up, and may increase further in the coming days, after the BEST administration issued a diktat of strict action against employees, if found missing work even after utilising the normal quota of sick leaves.

Going down! The BEST bus that toppled over on April 6 at Bandra, killing a biker, had a relatively inexperienced driver behind the wheels; BEST authorities say they are forced to employ such drivers on contact due to its own employees bunking work. File pic

According to a circular released in the first week of April to all the 25 bus depots and smaller bus stations across the city, BEST has decided to take stringent steps against those who ‘unnecessarily’ bunk office. This, on the other hand, has stirred fear amongst bus drivers, who say they are already under severe pressure because of the recent accidents, and claim to work even if unwell.

Ill at ease
One of the points in the circular states that in case an employee is absent from work on the pretext of being ill and goes on leave without permission from superiors, action can be initiated against him. “We don’t go on leave and continue to drive buses even though we are sick, fearing action against us. There are drivers who are genuinely ill but are working. Else they don’t know what steps would be taken,” said a bus driver from BEST Kamgar Sena.

These drivers claim that the April heat is creating further problems and although fans have been installed in the vehicles, the heavy traffic and pollution is taking a toll on their health further. On Sunday, four passengers and a driver were injured after a BEST bus rammed into another at Worli. Similarly on April 19, two buses met with an accident at Bandra Reclamation; no one was injured in the mishap. In 2011-12, a total of 26 fatal accidents have been reported involving BEST buses. Although, none of the officials or the BEST union state that any of these drivers had complained of illness or inability to work, sources claim there is every possibility that accidents could happen in future if drivers are under stress or medically unfit. “If a driver is actually ill then he should take leave even if it means going without pay for that period. It is better than running into an accident,” said BEST committee member Ravi Raja.

Check please!
BEST also intends to conduct a complete health check-up, in case a driver takes sick leaves often. However, officials claim that many employees bunk work on the pretext of being ill. “All employees, including drivers, get 30 days of privilege leave and 10 days of sick leave a year. However, some of them still don’t turn up for work, claiming to be ill. So we have decided to take stringent action,” said a senior BEST official on condition of anonymity. Close to 10 per cent absenteeism was recorded till last month by BEST, which has about 12,000 bus drivers. Officials maintain they wouldn’t take action if a driver submits a written leave application to superiors if he is taking days off after availing all his 40 leaves. But he will have to go without pay for the extended period.

One step at a time
“This step has been taken to reduce absenteeism,” said OP Gupta, general manager, BEST. Meanwhile the administration claims that initially they will issue a memo in the first instance if a driver remains absent. Over a period of time if the instances of the person’s absenteeism keep increasing, then the employee can also be dismissed. Due to its absentee employees, BEST administration for long has had to depend on contracted drivers, who don’t have much experience operating buses. The double-decker bus, which keeled over at Bandra (E) on April 6, killing a biker, was also being driven by a person, who had less than five years of driving experience.

More power to Mumbaikars
>> 10-lakh power consumers in the island city are likely to get long-term respite in power supply for a period of 25 years from BEST
>>  The undertaking will sign a power purchase agreement with India Bulls for buying 300 MW from 2016
>>  They are buying this power at a rate of Rs 3.42 per unit and they expect the total demand of power to reach 1300 MW by that time
>>  Presently, BEST has a similar agreement with Tata Power, from who they are getting 932 MW at a cost of Rs 3.54 per unit 

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