The response of the State Government and the Chief Minister to the long-standing demands of TSRTC workers and democratically called strike has been arrogant, dismissive and patently undemocratic. From demanding that all workers appear for work on the very day the strike began, to stating that the 49,000+ workers who did not do so have “dismissed themselves” from employment, the State Government and Chief Minister have indicated with clarity that they consider workers’ demands to be of no relevance with the Chief Minister terming the strike an “unpardonable crime.” The Chief Minister subsequently even divulged plans to privatise half the TSRTC fleet and ensure that trade unions no longer exist in TSRTC.
Victimisation of striking workers is also underway with the arrest of trade union leaders and workers holding a rally at Hyderabad’s Gun Park on Monday, 7 October 2019. The arrests are not only unlawful but also show contempt for the struggles and sacrifices borne by the working people of Telangana for statehood, of which the 42-day transport workers’ strike was a key part. The Chief Minster has also asked the Director General of Police to intervene in the strike and maintain police in all depots and bus stations so as to prevent workers from the exercising their legitimate right to dissent and protest. Despite these measures, striking workers have held firm and large sections of public have declared support for the strike and demands raised by the workers.
TSRTC has been financially strained for many years now. Daily operational losses of over Rs. 3 crore have resulted in accumulated losses of Rs. 3,380 crore alongside a debt of over Rs. 5,000 crore. These losses have mounted due to short-payment of dues by government and repeated delays in transfer of government funds. The State Government even today owes TSRTC Rs. 2,000+ crores in terms of concessional fare subsidy for senior citizens, students, etc.
Insufficient State Government funding ensures that TSRTC is unable to pay wages on time and regularly apportions workers’ welfare funds to sustain itself. Workers have suffered wage delays for over 20 months, DA arrears have not been paid for nearly as long and the Rs. 1,000 crore apportioned from the workers’ consumer cooperative society is yet to be returned. Inadequate State Government support has also left TSRTC with a poorly maintained and ageing bus fleet. Many buses in disrepair are not replaced with new buses but refurbished to extend their use life. There has also been no recruitment of new workers since 2014 despite over 6,000 workers retiring since then, which has led to many workers overworked with extended overtime and inadequate rest.
Unsafe buses and overworked workers places both workers’ and commuters’ lives at risk while the systematic and sustained under-funding by the State Government ensures that public transport as a public good in Telangana is provided at the cost of workers’ wages and rights and at the cost of workers’ and commuters’ lives.
This situation is not restricted to TSRTC alone. Workers of State Road Transport Corporations (SRTCs) in Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and many other states have all struck against the systematic defunding of state-owned public transport. In many instances, workers’ have been demanding reorganisation of SRTCs. State governments have instead preferred to privatise sections of the bus fleet, a measure opposed by transport workers across the country, and absolve themselves of the responsibility of providing affordable public transport to working people. At the same time, the Central Government through the promulgation of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 is actively encouraging private participation in public transport. As a result, the working peoples’ right to public transport is under a two-pronged attack.
Public transport as a right of the working class is under attack throughout the country and the strike of the TSRTC workers is an important part in the resistance against it. The NTUI calls on the Telangana State Government to dialogue with the legitimate democratic trade unions of the TSRTC workers in good faith and ensure that:
- The long-standing demands of the TSRTC workers are met; and
- The working people of Telangana receive good quality and affordable public transport.