Sixteen hours after the BEST buses went off the city roads as employees of the transport body went on a strike, the stir was withdrawn this afternoon following Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray's intervention. The BEST workers' union had decided to go ahead with the bus strike from midnight to press for their demands, including timely payment of salaries.
However, the stir was called off around 4 pm, after Thackeray, whose party is at the helm of affairs in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), assured that the budgets of the civic body and the BEST would be merged.
Talking to reporters at his residence 'Matoshree' here after his meeting with the BEST union representatives, Thackeray said, "One of the main problems the BEST workers were facing was their salaries, which they did not get on time. I assure them that their dues would be paid to them by the 10th of every month."
He added that in order to solve other problems being faced by the BEST employees was that the budgets of the BMC and the transport body will have to be merged.
"We will try to do it at the earliest. However, for that to happen, we have to approach the state government, move certain amendments in the law. Once it is done, automatically, all the problems faced by the workers will be addressed," he said.
Meanwhile, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray tweeted that the strike was called off after the unions met the party president for talks.
"Uddhav Thackeray ji has assured the unions that all the BEST staffers will get their salaries on time, which was the main concern. Uddhav Thackeray ji also discussed and assured the restructuring of the BEST, along with the merger of BMC & BEST budgets soon," he said in a tweet.
"Measures to restructure the BEST with regard to the BMC are a Manifesto for @ShivSena and we will fulfil it," he said in another tweet.
A union representative, who was also present for the press briefing along with the Sena president, said that BEST decided to call off the strike after the Sena chief agreed to take responsibility of the public sector undertaking.
"Strike was our last resort after all the other options failed. We are happy that the demands of workers who work tirelessly all year will be finally met," the union representative said.
BJP legislator Narendra Mehta took a dig at the Sena and said the party failed to meet the demands of BEST workers.
"It is the Sena that is responsible for the BEST strike and Mumbaikars had to face problems commuting on the day of 'Raksha Bandhan'" the BJP MLA told reporters.
He added that while the BJP was fighting for real development, for the Sena, it was all about "its own development".
Nearly 36,000 BEST employees went on strike since midnight, putting lakhs of commuters to inconvenience, especially as 'Raksha Bandhan' is being celebrated today.
The BEST operates around 3,700 buses on 483 routes, ferrying over 30 lakh passengers every day. Its transport wing is facing daily losses of over Rs 2 crore. The BEST employees and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have been at loggerheads for the past few days over several issues, including irregular payment of salaries.
In a bid to provide some relief to the commuters, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) ran additional 75 buses on major routes, while the Central Railway (CR) opened additional booking windows. The Western Railway (WR) also ran four more services between Churchgate and Virar.
An MSRTC spokesperson said, "We operated 73 buses from Kurla to BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex), Thane to Mantralaya, Mantralaya to Panvel and Dadar to CSMT (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus), etc. But it is obvious that 73 buses can not do the job of 3700 buses."
Many autorickshaw drivers refused to ferry short-distance passengers, and aggrieved commuters took to social media to vent out their anger.
"Not a single Ricksawala ready to ply to Veera Desai from Andheri West Railway Station #beststrike @MumbaiPolice #incredibleindia," tweeted Siddhesh Sardesai.
Vatsal Surotia reacted, "It is possibly THE worst day to travel by road in #Mumbai today. Rakshabandhan traffic plus BEST strike plus rains."