The BEST bus strike in Mumbai on Friday entered the fourth day with a stalemate prevailing between striking workers and the management of the civic-run transport undertaking.
Lakhs of commuters were inconvenienced with autorickshaws, taxis and private transport buses pressed into service proving inadequate to take on the passenger load catered to by the BEST on a daily basis. All eyes are now on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed against the bus strike in the Bombay High Court. The HC is scheduled to hear the PIL Friday afternoon. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, whose party controls the BMC, the parent body of BEST, Thursday held several rounds of talks with BEST union leaders in the presence of Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta and BEST general manager Surendra Kumar but could not break the deadlock.
With the 3200-odd bus fleet of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) off the roads, both Western and Central Railways ran extra services and several MSRTC buses were also deployed in the metropolis, said officials. Over 32,000 BEST employees went on an indefinite strike on Tuesday over various demands, including higher salaries and merger of the BEST and BMC budgets. The state government has already invoked the stringent Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against the striking BEST employees but the move has not been able to force workers to call off their strike.
Workers, meanwhile, said they are yet to get salaries for the month of December despite it being ten days into the new year. Commuters appeared at their wits’ end as the strike has been among the longer ones that the metropolis has seen in recent times. Rajaram Satpute, a daily commuter from Kurla to Mahul, said, “I have been living in Mumbai for the past 40 years and I have never seen such a long BEST strike.” He hit out at parties in the BMC and questioned them about steps taken in the recent past to ensure such crippling strikes do not occur.
He also took a swipe at Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who is currently in Uttar Pradesh. “I want to ask the CM what he is doing in Uttar Pradesh. This is the time when he should be in Mumbai,” Satpute said. Other demands of the striking workers include deliberations on a new wage agreement, resuming appointments on compassionate and bonus at par with BMC staffers.