The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) union to call off their strike. The court also asked the union to announce within an hour, that they have called off their strike, the longest such protest in the history of the BEST.
Commuters in Mumbai continued to suffer as the strike of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) bus services entered the ninth day on Wednesday. The workers' union rejected the management's '10-step increment' proposal to end the stalemate and all eyes will now be on the Bombay High Court which is hearing the case related to the strike, the longest such protest in the history of the BEST.
Over 32,000 BEST employees have been on strike since January 8 over their various demands, including pay hike, revision of pay grade for junior level employees and merger of loss-making BEST's budget with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The high court on Tuesday had directed the union of the BEST workers to take a final decision on the withdrawal of its ongoing strike and inform the court on Wednesday.
The direction came after the BEST told the court that it was willing to implement the redressal measure suggested by the state government's high-powered committee on granting an interim pay hike to its employees.
The high-powered committee, headed by chief secretary, has recommended, among other things, that subject to the strike being called off, as an interim measure, workers be granted a '10-step increase' in salary for about 15,000 employees in a time-bound manner.
However, BEST workers' union leader Shashank Rao rejected the proposal on Tuesday. The union was adamant on its demand of merging BEST's budget with that of its parent body BMC.
A senior BEST official said the government was seriously considering the demand.
"The high-powered committee is giving a serious thought to merge both the budgets. A decision on this is likely to come soon," an official said.
Meanwhile, commuters continued to face hardships due to the strike, even as the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) deployed its buses to minimise their woes. A BEST driver apologised to commuters for the inconvenience, but also appealed them to understand the problems faced by the bus employees.
"We have been financially distressed since the last few years. We had no option but to resort to this (strike). But we are hopeful that this will end," he said.
The state government had last week invoked the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against the striking employees.
But it has so far not taken any stringent action except for sending them notices to evict the houses provided to them by the undertaking.
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 buses which criss-cross the metropolis and also operate services in the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai.
It is the second-biggest mode of transport in Mumbai after local trains, which ferry over 80 lakh passengers everyday.
(With PTI inputs)