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Govt ultimatum to striking Telangana state transport workers a 'privatisation threat'

Counterview Desk
The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), a network of a large number of grassroots civil society organizations, has sought Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's immediate intervention to "fairly resolve" the month-long strike by Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees, asking him stop any move towards privatization of TSRTC.
In a letter, senior social activists Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Dr Binayak Sen, Prafulla Samantara, Lingraj Azad, Kavita Srivastava, and Sandeep Pandey, and Jeevan Kumar from across the country, and Syed Bilal, P Shankar, Vissa Kiran Kumar, P Chennaiah, Vyavasaya Vruthidarula and Ramakrishnam Raju from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have said that the strike signifies "growing public resistance in the state", requiring proper response to TSRTC employees' demands instead to seeking to adopt strong arm tactics.

Text:

We the members of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), an alliance of more than 300 people’s organizations from across the country are writing to express our deepest dismay and disenchantment at the manner in which the serious issue of strike by 48,000 employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) has been handled by your government.
The issue concerns not just the employees (including bus drivers, conductors, mechanics, maintenance workers) and their families who would together be about three lakh people affected, but many more lakhs of common people who stand to lose due to halt of public transport services as well as attempts to privatize the same.
We also write to you with a grave sense of urgency since your Cabinet has issued an ‘ultimatum’ for all TSRTC employees to resume duty by tonight, failing which they shall stand to lose their jobs permanently, and pave way for privatization of the corporation.
While it has been an entire month since the employees embarked on their strike, it is indeed a sad state of affairs that even after such a long period, there seems to be no substantial offer of dialogue and resolution by your government.
Starting tomorrow, the TSRTC employees along with their family members, have declared another phase of intense strike in front of all bus depots across the state. At least at this critical stage, we hope you would intervene to resolve the issue in an amicable way.
Tragically, many employees like Surender Goud, Srinivas Reddy, Surender Reddy, Ravinder, Jaipal Reddy and a dalit woman employee Neeraja have been pushed to end their lives and at least 12 other employees including conductors and drivers have succumbed to depression and cardiac arrests in the past month, as per union and news reports.
While we convey our deepest condolences to families and colleagues of all the employees in this moment of grief and outrage, we see this as an unprecedented crisis that the state has pushed the entire TSRTC community into!
From across the nation, we have been observing all these developments with a great deal of concern, since we also know that the states in the southern part of the country have been comparatively successful examples for public transportation, as against many states in the northern and central region, which shifted towards privatization of transport, leading to major hardships to lakhs of ordinary commuters as well as losses to the public exchequer in the long term.
We have perused through the 26 point charter of the unions and find that almost all of them are reasonable demands that the state government can concede to and the same would in fact help TSRTC in long run, to re-establish itself as a strong public sector enterprise.
We express particular support to the demands related to merger of TSRTC with state government, payment of arrears, pay revision pending since 2017, purchase of additional fleet, job tenure security, special measures and support for women employees etc.
The resistance that we have been witnessing in Telangana in the past one month, not just by the striking employees, but by lakhs of other citizens, social organizations, students groups, women's groups, political joint action committees, opposition parties is almost at par with the upsurge during the Telangana statehood movement.
It is no sign of a healthy democracy for your government to ignore the everyday agitations and massive gatherings by tens of thousands of employees, supported by all sections of civil society.
It is learnt that your government plans to open up 5,100 routes, i.e. half of the 10,400 routes in the state, for privatization. You have also declared that the routes to be privatized would increase further if the employees don’t end their strike. It needs no emphasis that such a measure would spell doom for the public transport sector in the state.
TSRTC provides services to the remotest of villages and if the privatization drive is pushed, at least 4,000 interior villages would suffer. This would be hugely detrimental to the rural hinterlands where public transport is the only mode of travel and private parties would not run buses in areas which are not profitable.
As someone who owes your power today to the Telangana movement, it would only be fair that you genuinely acknowledge the growing public resistance in the state and respond to the demands of the various socio-political movements, beginning with the most burning issue of the TSRTC employees.
The right to strike/protest is not just a hard earned legal right, but a democratic means of struggle which you have resorted to as well extensively in the past. To brand all the 48,000 employees who chose to go on strike with legitimate demands as 'self-dismissed' is plain arbitrary and unprecedented.
You would recall that a couple of years back, your government also attempted to clamp down on the Dharna Chowk, although the same was struck down by the High Court in its order issued in November 2018.
The right to transport is part of the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to free movement and a welfare state has the responsibility to ensure the same, especially for the lakhs of poor people, women, students and persons from marginalized social locations.
We find it extremely ironic that while the (new) state of Andhra Pradesh has conceded to the demand of merger of APSRTC with the state government, Telangana, which we all looked forward to as a welfare state that emerged out of a people’s movement is taking the path of privatization, that too in such an arbitrary fashion!
Much has been written about in the past month as to how the state policy has been more responsible for the revenue losses of the TSRTC and to penalise the employees for the same is grossly unjust.
Likewise, while it is true that the strike has been causing hardships to the ordinary commuters, to place the entire onus of this situation on the striking employees as against the policy paralysis of the state is extremely unfair.
The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the employees has been claiming that the state government reimbursed only Rs 710 crore to the corporation, as against Rs 2,700 crore pending for the last five years (2014-2019), as reimbursement for providing free and concessionary bus passes to students, journalists, police staff on certain duties, senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
The approach of starving TSRTC of funds, pushing it into losses, declaring the corporations as ‘unviable’ and therefore privatization as the ‘only way’ is an old method followed in some other states and we see the same happening in Telangana now.
TSRTC provides services to the remotest of villages and if the privatization drive is pushed, at least 4,000 interior villages would suffer
We place on record our appreciation for the timely intervention of the High Court in this matter and hope that your Government will take steps to bring an early resolution to this serious issue as per the directions of the High Court, to begin with, by paying the salaries of the month of September, for which the employees have worked hard.
It is also quite disconcerting that just a few days back, the High Court had to admonish the MD, TSRTC for filing a misleading affidavit inconsistent with the earlier statement of your transport minister Ajay Kumar in the assembly regarding payment of all dues to TSRTC.
We know that the matter has now been listed for November 7 in the High Court, where the Chief Secretary (SK Joshi), the in-charge Managing Director of TSRTC (Sunil Sharma) and the Commissioner of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation-GHMC (Lokesh Kumar) have been summoned. We hope your government will take a reasoned, fair and humane stand in the court.
We are very pained to note that your position so far not been sensitive to the struggle of the employees. When the matter is sub judice, issuing such ultimatums, amounts to contempt of judicial process. We urge you to refrain from the same.
We also find that a couple of pragmatic suggestions have been offered to you from different quarters, including your own party MP, to open the window of negotiation, but there is no substantive response from your end.
We are convinced that the TSRTC employees are fighting not just for themselves but for safeguarding the corporation, the entire state and the long term interest of the common people.
We therefore urge you to immediately:
  • Revoke the ‘ultimatum’ issued to the TSRTC employees to call off their strike, failing which they would stand to lose their jobs permanently. 
  • Initiate a process for peaceful and positive dialogue with representation from TSRTC, all unions, opposition parties, women’s and students groups. 
  • Duly compensate families of all employees who have died in the past one month with an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh, employment to another member in a family, 3 acres of land and other benefits. 
  • Stop any move towards privatization of the TSRTC and constitute a high-level expert committee with representation from unions as well as public spirited persons and people’s organisations to suggest measures for effective and sustainable functioning of the TSRTC. 
In anticipation of fair action in the interest of the ‘Bangaru Telangana’ that your government claims to bring about.

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