Telangana transport strike: What unions want, why govt is unyielding

Sreenivas Janyala
A passenger walks with his luggage at a bus terminal after transportation was disrupted following a day-long shutdown strike called by Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC). (AP Photo)

SINCE OCTOBER 5, some 47,000 employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) have gone on strike, with no resolution in sight two weeks later.

Their demands

TSRTC employees have listed 26 demands. These include merger of the TSRTC with the state government, which would make them eligible to a number of perks and benefits; reimbursement of government dues to TSRTC; and an allocation of 1% of the state Budget to TSRTC. Other demands include job security for drivers and conductors; and immediate reimbursement of a salary hike due since April 1, 2017.

TSRTC union leader Ashwathama Reddy said employees called for the strike also because they felt the government was preparing to privatise the corporation. Reddy said employees fear that Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao would hand over the corporation to P V Krishna Reddy, managing director of Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL), which is executing some major works under the Kaleswaram irrigation project in Telangana. These apprehensions started after MEIL acquired last August a controlling stake in Olectra Greentech, which makes electric vehicles. Olectra at present runs 40 electric buses in Hyderabad to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport; TSRTC unions fear that more routes would be privatised and given to MEIL.

Government acts tough

Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who was supported by TSRTC unions during the statehood movement, has dug in his heels saying he will not negotiate with the unions over their demands.

Transport Minister P Ajay Kumar said: “The Telangana Rashtra Samiti never promised or assured that TSRTC would be merged with the state government. It was not a poll promise either. Salary hike is due but it will be done at an appropriate time, and there was no need for the TSRTC unions to go on strike urgently during Dussehra, which caused immense hardship to people.”

Dussehra is Telangana’s most important festival, with lakhs travelling to their homes in the state. Although the unions had issued their strike notice 10 days ahead of Dussehra, the government had ignored it saying it would not be blackmailed. “The CM saw no immediate need for the TSRTC staff to go on strike especially before the festival,’’ a CMO official said. As a warning to the strike proposal, the state government did not deposit the September salaries of TSRTC employees.

In the absence of TSRTC drivers and conductors, the government has hired temporary drivers, offering them Rs 2,000 for eight hours of duty. Many drivers of garbage trucks of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation have apparently gone on leave, and were found driving TSRTC buses. But these buses are running only on certain routes, and for short distances. The government also extended Dussehra holidays until October 19, and has impounded school buses to run them along some routes. Striking staff are not allowing buses to leave depots by squatting in front of the gates.

Suicides, then and now

Srinivas Reddy, a TSRTC driver at Khammam depot, immolated himself, allegedly because he did not receive his salary and could not pay his EMI or afford household expenses. He died at a hospital in Hyderabad last week. A day later, Surender Goud, 50, a conductor, hanged himself at his Hyderabad home.

During the statehood movement between 2009 and 2013, the TRS had attributed every suicide and immolation bid to the movement. Now, it is silent on the suicides of the two TSRTC employees, and a suicide attempt by another one.

To remind the TRS and KCR how they had thrown in their might behind the statehood agitation, TSRTC employees are organising ‘vanta varpu’ cooking on the roads — which they had done several times during the Telangana agitation — to bring transport to a halt once again.

No looking back

While the Congress and the BJP have piled on the pressure, analysts say KCR cannot turn back after taking such a tough stand. There is a byelection on Monday in Huzurnagar Assembly seat. The TRS hopes to wrest the seat from the Congress and leaders believe the TRS’s position will be weakened if it softens its stand on the strike.

Although KCR has said the 47,000-odd staff of TSRTC cease to be employees after they failed to rejoin duty before 6 pm of October 3, the government has not sent out suspension or dismissal notices. At a review meeting, KCR told officials they are deemed as dismissed and cease to be employees. TSRTC unions are preparing to approach courts if the government recruits staff in their place.