News Brief

Why Around 50,000 State Transport Employees Are On An Indefinite Strike In Telangana

A state-owned bus en route to Hyderabad.  (Nikhilb239/Wikipedia)
Snapshot
  • As the state government-TSRTC employees standoff is set to enter the second week, it isn’t clear who will blink first and how the situation will develop.

When the movement for a separate Telangana state was at its peak, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) drew support from the Telangana Mazdoor Union (TMU) and the labour unions of the now Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC).

One of the reasons for the trade unions to support the TRS and its leader K Chandrasekhar Rao during the agitation for a separate state was because Rao and his party made a promise to meet their demands and aspirations if they came to power.

Today, the trade unions and Rao are at loggerheads, with TSRTC employees going on an indefinite strike from 5 October.

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The spark for the fallout came from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, when the AP State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) was taken over by the state government.

TSRTC employees are demanding that their corporation too should be taken over by the state government since it is bleeding. The TSRTC recorded a loss of Rs 984 crore during the 2018-19 financial year, while the employee unions say the losses run to over Rs 1,100 crore every year.

One of the biggest problems for the TSRTC is that it is paying a huge interest of Rs 365 crore a year, compounding its woes. For this and for other subsidies that the TSRTC bears for the commitment made by the state government, it has received a paltry grant of only Rs 114 crore last fiscal.

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The Telangana state government owes the TSRTC Rs 2,100 crore. The employees have not been receiving their salaries on time and the corporation doesn’t get any subsidy on diesel, resulting in an additional expenditure of Rs 25 crore a day for every Re 1 hike in diesel price.

The TSRTC employees and their unions gave notice to the state government early in September, warning that they would resort to an indefinite strike if their 27-odd demands were not met.

Besides the demand that the state takes over the TSRTC, they have been demanding for filling up various vacancies and a wage hike that is due from 2017. Other problems that the TSRTC faces are an aging fleet, lack of human resources, poor efficiency and competition from private operators.

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The trade unions had threatened strikes during 2016, 2017, and 2018. They hadn’t pressed ahead with their threats in the previous years. But this time, they have gone ahead with their strike plans, causing problems to millions of TSRTC bus users.

Over 10 million people use TSRTC buses every day. The corporation connects over 9,300 villages and about 840 hamlets with major urban areas. The corporation operates 10,400 buses every day with over 2,000 of the buses being hired.

TMU working president, Thomas Reddy, told the media that his union had been extending only issue-based support to TRS. Not a single promise made by TRS and Rao has been fulfilled yet, according to him.

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Though the unions gave the strike notice in early September, they were called for talks only on 3 October, two days before the TSRTC employees were scheduled to go on an indefinite strike.

The employees had approached the state Transport Minister Puvvada Ajay Kumar in September itself for a solution but he had turned them away saying Chief Minister Rao would take a decision.

As soon as the strike began, the Telangana government took a firm stand asking the TSRTC employees to report for work on 6 October or consider themselves to have dismissed themselves from their jobs.

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On 7 October, Rao told the media that the current staff strength of the TSRTC was 1,200, implying that nearly 48,000 TSRTC employees have lost their jobs.

Rao told the media that the government hadn’t dismissed them and the employees had left their jobs on their own. The trade unions are challenging this stand of the state government and are ready to move the courts, if necessary.

For now, a little over 3,000 buses are operating in the state but they aren’t enough to meet the demand. The Telangana government has hired some drivers, too, to run the TSRTC buses.

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Some private operators, who have got permission to operate buses to fill the demand gap, are fleecing the commuters. These operators are not accepting the passes given to students and under-privileged people in the state.

Transport Minister Ajay Kumar has warned that action will be taken against those fleecing the commuters, adding that “adequate number of buses are plying in the state.”

Ajay Kumar told the media that 3,116 buses are plying, a clear indicator of the suffering the people of Telangana state are undergoing.

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Going forward, the state government plans to own only 50 per cent of the 10,4000 buses. It will hire some 30 per cent or 3,200 of the buses, while the rest would be run as stage carriages by private owners.

All the Opposition parties in Telangana are backing the TSRTC employees and a token one-day strike has been scheduled for 19 October.

As the state government-TSRTC employees standoff is set to enter the second week, it isn’t clear who will blink first and how the situation will develop.

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