MUMBAI: Bus operations at 247 of the 250 depots of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation remained suspended on Tuesday as the MSRTC employees continued their strike on the 13th day over the demand for a merger of the corporation with the state government despite the High Court expressing displeasure over the protest and the state government appealing them to resume their duty.
Lakhs of passengers were facing hardships as buses of the state-run corporation remained off roads and they were now dependent on private vehicles for travelling.
As the employees refused to budge even after the intervention by the Bombay High Court and the state government set up a high-level panel to address the demands, the MSRTC has suspended 376 employees across the state for allegedly instigating others to join the stir, officials said.
The move to suspend the employees came after the high court deprecated their “adamant stand” of not withdrawing their stir despite the government extending full cooperation and setting up a panel to address their merger demand.
Earlier in the day, Maharashtra Transport Minister Anil Parab had said a contempt petition was being filed over the ongoing strike.
A section of the MSRTC employees has not been reporting for duty since October 28 seeking a merger of the cash-strapped corporation with the state government.
In the wake of the strike, the Maharashtra government has already permitted private buses, school buses, goods vehicles and contract carriage buses to ferry passengers from Monday evening.
An official of MSRTC said only three depots – Gargoti and Kagal in the Kolhapur region and Igatpuri depot in the Nashik region – were functional on Tuesday.
The Kagal depot was operating partially.
The MSRTC employees intensified the agitation from Sunday after the Diwali festival concluded.
Meanwhile, the striking employees invited the wrath of the HC for not falling in line.
A vacation bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and S P Tavade in the order made available late Monday night said the Maharashtra government complied with everything that the MSRTC workers had demanded withdrawing their strike/agitation.
We do not understand why the employees of the MSRTC have now backed out from what they wanted the government to consider, the bench said, adding the state government has cooperated fully concerning the demand of the MSRTC workers.
Advocate Gunaratan Sadavarte, appearing for the MSRTC workers, however, told the high court on Monday evening that the government resolution (GR) was not in line with the one issued in October 2020 in the case of reservations pertaining to the promotion of employees from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories.
Sadavarte said several employees of the MSRTC have committed suicide and some of them in their suicide notes blamed the state chief minister for the same.
He said the workers were hence, not willing to withdraw their strike.
The MSRTC is one of the biggest state transport corporations in the country with a fleet of more than 16,000 buses and around 93,000 employees, including drivers and conductors.
The corporation used to ferry over 65 lakh passengers daily before the coronavirus outbreak last year.
Meanwhile, Parab said an Industrial Court had earlier declared the strike illegal and later the Bombay High Court too declared the stir as illegal when some other unions gave the call.
“The high court, in its order, had dubbed the unions’ stand as adamant. Despite this, the strike is on. When yesterday we brought this to the notice of the HC, it suggested that you can file a contempt petition. Hence the MSRTC is filing a contempt petition,” Parab, who is chairman of MSRTC, told reporters.
The HC is likely to hear the contempt of court plea on Wednesday, he added.
“From our side, we have done everything that was to be done,” he said, adding that decision about the demand of the merger of the MSRTC will be taken by the committee set up on the directive of the HC.
Appealing to unions to call off strike, Parab said MSRTC is under a huge financial burden.
“In the last two years of COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has further worsened. Currently, the cumulative loss is Rs 12,000 crore,” he said, adding that the government has fulfilled all the demands of the unions except salary increment, and he had assured that it would be resolved after Diwali.
The merger decision cannot be taken in one day, he added.
Meanwhile, an official said the employees who were suspended are posted in 45 bus depots of the MSRTC.
The highest number of 58 employees each were suspended from Sangli and Nanded divisions, followed by 57 from the Yavatmal division, the official added.
As the MSRTC buses remained off roads, passengers at some places complained that they were being fleeced by private bus operators.
On Tuesday night, private bus operators appealed to their members to not overcharge the passengers and give them better service.