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The travel plans of several passengers during Diwali vacation went for a toss as 800 bus drivers and conductors attached to Pune Division of the MSRTC participated in the strike by state transport workers. While some of them acknowledged that people were suffering due to the strike, they had a counter question: ‘what about our suffering’?
The conductors and drivers also made it a point to mention that their intention to go on a strike — unless their demands were met — was conveyed to State Transport Minister Diwakar Raote about 40 days in advance, but claimed that he “chose to ignore it”. “Our demands are just and they have been pending for decades. The drivers and conductors work odd hours, travel six days a week and often develop ailments because of irregular sleeping hours and eating habits… but they get paid peanuts. I have worked for 11 years as a driver. My salary is only Rs 14,000… how will I manage,” said Sandip Patil, a driver.
Others pointed out that the unfavourable work conditions and lack of facilities for MSRTC staffers were discouraging the youth from taking up a job with the corporation. “The attrition rate is phenomenal. Youngsters, who join as a driver or a conductor, leave within a year. Who will continue in such a hard job, that too for only Rs 8,000 a month,” said Subhash Naik, a driver.
The strike has also affected the drivers, such as those who hail from Marathwada, northern Maharashtra or Vidharbha and had come to Pune on duty. They said they would not be able to go back home till the strike was called off. “I am from the Aurangabad Depot. I can’t leave my bus here and go home for Diwali. If the strike goes on, I will have to celebrate Diwali here with colleagues,” said Atmaram Chaudhari, a conductor.
The MSRTC staffers also pointed out the poor living conditions they had to deal with at the bus depots. At Shivajinagar depot, about 70 drivers and conductors have to sleep in a hall that has no beds, no water supply and only a few fans. The toilets and bathrooms are not very clean, they said, adding that the roof leaks when it rains and there is no secure place to keep their belongings.
“We don’t have too many demands. We are just asking for better pay scales after being underpaid for several years. We are asking for better facilities. We know that since it is Diwali, people are suffering because they can’t go home. But if we go on a strike after Diwali, there would be no pressure. Instead of blaming us, people should blame the government for their ordeal,” said Amol Rathod, a driver from Jalgaon.