In probably an unprecedented gesture, the Karnataka government led by chief minister Siddaramaiah declared two days holidays for both private and government schools and colleges in anticipation of the indefinite strike called by six transport unions in the state.
These include the Karnataka State Road Transport Corp (KSRTC) and the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corp (BMTC) who joined the indefinite strike call from midnight of Sunday, even as talks failed with the government. Six unions had given notice on 3 July to the government of the strike if their 41 demands were not met. The Indian Vehicle Drivers Trade Union with a strength of over 1 lakh drivers also sprang up to support the strike.
Some 22,000 buses of KSRTC and about 6,400 buses of the BMTC are expected to go off the roads. There were reports that some buses had been stoned as they were returning to their depots after midnight Sunday. The impact of the strike call was felt from Sunday evening itself as many BMTC buses stayed off the roads. TV9 has been reporting that stones had been pelted on 65 buses damaging 6 BMTC and 10 KSRTC. Over 3700 police personnel have been deployed in the city to maintain peace.
The employees are demanding higher wages by nearly 30 percent, while the government agreed to only 10 percent as of last night. The government is thinking about alternative arrangements like pressing private buses in service and invoking the essential services maintenance act or ESMA. Meanwhile a PIL has been filed in the High court that transport services being essential services, its employees should not be allowed to strike work. The Bangalore metro service has increased it frequency of trains.
Among other demands of the unions are restrooms for women employees and creches for their children at the bus stations. The demands include 35 percent higher wages, 15 percent hike in daily allowances, a comprehensive medical scheme and rationalizing working hours and transfers, he said.
The state government has plied private buses on the roads to reduce the pressure on commuters. Meanwhile, the Bangalore Metro Rail Transport Corporation (BMRTC) has rushed to fill the gap by increasing its frequency of trains from 10 minutes to 5 minutes. This may come as a major boost to the Metro, which is building itself as a major alternative to road transport. It has already a fully functional east west corridor and is also planning to come up with various support services for commuters at major junctions, like crèches, pharmacies, gift shops and even grocery stores. This is an excellent opportunity for BMRTC to get top of the mind recall with commuters.
Live Mint reported that Bengaluru’s bus service was the largest city bus operation in India by fleet, revenue and mileage. Nearly 10 million population of the city travel by BMTC buses, according to a recent government study and one million by KSRTC services across the state.
While on one end this is good news for the city which on an ordinary day reels under heavy traffic congestion on the roads and experts and researchers have constantly been touting public transport as a way out of the traffic chaos in the city, this is also bad news to school and college children, who are dependent on public transport to reach their educational institutions.
So, the strike call by the unions would not only be holding commuters to ransom across the state, but also children and the young who will be losing two days, some of them unit tests and exams too. For instance, the Bangalore University has postponed the degree and postgraduate examinations scheduled for Tuesday.
While all Bengaluru schools have declared a two day holiday, some of the districts have declared one day off or no holiday at all. This is a telling comment on the city's infrastructure where schools are held to ransom because of their dependence on public transport and more so road transport. According to the state transport minister, Ramalinga Reddy, the transport bodies have made a profit only this year, while posting losses the earlier years. He has also been telling news channel TV9, that even a 10 percent hike would be more than what the other states were offering. He has also said that even the 10 percent hike would cost the exchequer nearly Rs 1650 crores and Rs 390 crores for the first year.
Meanwhile, Deccan Herald reported on Friday that the "All the employees of the four state-run transport corporations are ready to go to jail in case the government decides to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma)," said HV Anantha Subbarao, general secretary, KSRTC Staff and workers federation.
While, evoking ESMA is a way out for the state government to end the strike, with a belligerent union threatening to fill the jails if they did so, the governments only option is to go back to the negotiating table with the unions. It cannot allow them to hold the city to ransom and has to find a way to find a quick compromise.