As reported in the previous issue of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar, nearly 50,000 workers of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) have been on strike for more than a month. In a most high handed manner, the Telangana government has refused to heed to clear cut demand of the workers to stop the process of privatisation of the state transport bus operations and 25 other demands, including payment of arrears, pay revision pending since 2017, purchase of new fleet of buses and special measures and support for women workers. The government declared that all the workers of TSRTC who do not return to work would be considered to have resigned from their jobs. And, further it declared that if they do not return to work, then the entire state transport service will be put in private hands.
Jam packed in-door stadium and thousands waiting outside
The strike was precipitated by declaration of the Telangana government that almost half the bus 10,400 bus routes will be privatised. The government has claimed that the new Motor Vehicles Act (2019) gave it the complete power over public transport and it had the authority to take any action including privatisation of the public transport services. It has stopped the payment of salaries of the workers and has not even paid the salaries for the month of September when workers were not on strike. Workers are facing great uncertainty and hardship. At least five workers have committed suicide in one month and more than a dozen have died due to depression and heart attacks.
The TSRTC workers had refused to be cowed down by such attacks by the government and determinedly carrying on with their struggle. They gave a call to assemble in great numbers in Sakala Janula Samara Bheri on 30th October 2019 to show solidarity with their demands.
30th October witnessed a hugely successful rally in the Saroornagar Indoor stadium in Hyderabad where the stadium was jam packed and tens of thousands of people had to remain outside. Thousands of others who were coming to participate in the rally were stopped and detained by the police. Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the TSRTC unions wanted the rally to be in the out-door stadium, but government refused permission. The rally was supported and addressed by all students’ and teachers’ organisations, and various social and political organisations. Speaker after speaker condemned the undemocratic, anti-worker and anti-people actions of the Telangana government and its plan to privatise the public transport system.
Even though the opposition to the government is widespread, the Telangana government has once again issued an ultimatum to the striking workers to end the strike by 5th November, failing which all of them will be thrown out of their jobs. Workers, on the other hand, have vowed to escalate the struggle by organising rasta roko and other protest actions. RTC workers along with their family members have declared another phase of intense strike in front of all bus depots across the state.
By adamently pushing for the privatisation of state transport bus routes, the Telangana government has clearly declared that it is working in the interest of a handful of big capitalists. It is clear that bus routes that will be privatised are the ones that are most travelled between. Private operators can jack up the fares on these routes and extract huge profits. TSRTC currently provides services to the remotest of villages in the state. If all workers are sacked, as the government is threatening to do, and TSRTC is wound up, then thousands of smaller interior villages are likely to be deprived of any bus service because private operators will find such destinations unprofitable. Lakhs of people will be forced to travel in unsafe and uncomfortable rural transport vehicles.
The Telangana government has been preparing the ground to privatise the bus service by delibrately trying to make TSRTC financially sick. The tax on the road transport services used to be 5 to 14 per cent and was increased to 28 per cent when GST was implemented. The price of diesel have been contantly rising. The JAC has also pointed out that the state government has paid only Rs 710 crore to the corporation out of a total of Rs 2,700 crore due to be paid for the last five years (2014-2019). These payments were due because of providing free and concessionary bus passes to students, journalists, police staff on certain duties, senior citizens and persons with disabilities. By starving the corporation of funds, government is pushing it into losses and trying to prove that the corporations is ‘unviable’ and therefore needs to be privatised. This is an well established method used by the central government and state governments to justify handing over public assets to private monopolies. Telangana state road transport services are used by more than a crore people daily and government has a responsibility to keep it viable through the requied financial support.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar stands with the workers who have been heroically fighting against this anti-worker, anti-social and anti-national course of development being followed by the Telangana government in the service of a handful of big capitalists. We demand that the government withdraws the ‘ultimatum’ issued to the TSRTC workers to unconditionally call off their strike. It must come forward to hold constructive talks with the JAC of TSRTC unions and give up its plans to privatise the state transport service. It must also pay the outstanding pay to the workers including compensation to those who have been grievously hurt because of the long drawn strike.