EVEN AS the BEST issued notices to over 300 striking workers on Wednesday, the agitation that started on January 7 is expected to continue on Thursday too. Talks between BEST general manager Suresh Kumar Bagade and the BEST workers union general secretary Shashank Rao failed to resolve the deadlock. At midnight on January 7, over 30,000 BEST employees called an indefinite strike under the banner of the BEST workers’ union. The protesters have alleged that while a proposal to merge the budgets of the BEST and its parent body, the BMC, has been passed, the administration is still awaiting a nod from the state urban development department to formalise the process.
Over 300 striking workers were issued notices by the state government under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) on Wednesday, allegedly warning them that they will be removed from their official accommodation if they failed to resume work.
The BEST management, meanwhile, asked the workers to end the stir and come to the negotiating table. When contacted, Bagade said the demands of the employees could not be fulfilled unless the strike was called off.
Rao told The Indian Express that the strike will continue on Thursday as the BEST management is yet to receive a response on the demands of the employees. “The women family members of the employees will protest against the notices and join the agitation on Thursday at 11 am,” he added.
The Shiv Sena-led BEST Kamgar Sena had late Tuesday said 11,000 of its members will return to work on Wednesday. It had also said nearly 500 buses were expected to run on Wednesday, however, only 10 buses plied. The Kamgar Sena’s announcement to withdraw from the protest had invited sharp criticism from BEST workers’ union chief Shashank Rao, who said the former had shown its “true character”.
The Maharashtra unit of the People’s Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) expressed dismay at reports that the BMC and BEST administration have chosen to invoke the MESMA, instead of taking steps to respond to their demands. PUCL Convenor Mihir Desai said that the BEST administration has issued eviction notices to striking employees and is already trying to remove them and their families from their homes.
The MNS, meanwhile, extended its support to the protesters and issued a letter stating that Maharashtra Navnirman Kamgaar Sena stands with the BEST employees.
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 buses, which ply in Mumbai and the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai.