The indefinite strike called by employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) has inconvenienced people across the state, especially those who have made plans to travel during the Diwali vacation. Due to the ‘100 per cent successful’ strike, almost all MSRTC buses remained off the roads on Tuesday. Those who wanted to travel on state transport buses had only two options — they either had to pay a high fare and buy tickets for private buses, or they had to cancel their trip. A joint action committee, formed by various unions representing several groups of state transport workers, had announced the strike last month, to demand the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission. The committee had also put forward other demands, including a 25 percent interim hike till the revised salary contract is drawn up.
The government, however, had refused to engage with them for almost a month. Two subsequent meetings, one held by State Transport Minister Diwakar Raote on October 13 and one by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on October 16, failed to placate the union leaders, who decided to go ahead with the strike days before Diwali. At bus depots across Pune on Tuesday, passengers were told that state transport services had been cancelled due the strike. Those who had booked tickets in advance received a refund for their ticket amount.
Hundreds of irate passengers made their way to the office of the depot manager, seeking to cancel their tickets. Some of them were even seen getting into arguments with the staff. Those who wanted to travel to relatively closer destinations such as Shirur, Ahmednagar and Narayangao were hit hardest by the strike, as private buses don’t ply to these places.
“I want to travel to Ahmednagar. The ticket price is usually Rs 150. Today, the private operators asked me to pay Rs 500, saying I will have to pay the fare till Aurangabad,” said Sunandan Jadhav, a student at the Shivajinagar ST station. Private bus operators, on the other hand, said it was not possible for them to accommodate so many passengers due to the limited number of seats, and the fact that almost 70 to 80 per cent seats had been pre-booked.
“The only thing we can do… is to bring the buses, which have already reached their destinations in the morning, back to Pune… so that they can carry the rest of the passengers… But even if we do that, these buses can only accommodate a limited number of passengers. It’s a sad situation,” said Harish Ramrakhiyani, a travel agent in Shivajinagar. Ajinkya Deokar, an engineering student who hails from Kolhapur and wants to go back home for Diwali, said, “I have cancelled my ticket and am waiting for a refund. I cancelled my journey because I can’t afford the high fares that private services are asking for. This is first time that I will not be going home for Diwali,” said Deokar.
Meanwhile, Pune Regional Transport Officer Babasaheb Ajri and senior MSRTC officials held a meeting with associations of private buses, school buses as well as bus service providers for private firms, who agreed to pitch in with their buses to provide some relief to passengers. “The service was started in the afternoon. Till evening, 45 buses had departed from Swargate station, and 45 from the Bank of Maharashtra, near the Shivajinagar bus station,” said Shrinivas Joshi, controller of Pune Division, MSRTC. The state transport service has 17,000 buses and over one lakh MSRTC employees.