Over 33,000 employees of Mumbai's civic transport undertaking BEST went on an indefinite strike since midnight over their demands, including higher wages, paralysing bus services and causing inconvenience to nearly 25-lakh daily commuters.
Responding to a call given by their union leaders, the agitating staff did not take out any bus from all 27 depots on Tuesday, even as the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) administration and an industrial court declared the strike as "illegal".
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200-red-colour buses which ply across 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 every day.
The employees are demanding higher salaries, merging budget of the loss-making BEST with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), deliberations on new wage agreement, resuming appointments on compassionate grounds and bonus equivalent to that of the civic body employees.
With its employees having gone on strike, the cash-strapped BEST is likely to face a loss of Rs 3 crore per day, a source said.
Shashank Rao, leader of the BEST Workers' Union, which has called the strike, alleged that the transport body's administration showed a callous approach in resolving the stalemate and that the employees had no option but to go on strike.
An industrial court had on Monday declared the strike as illegal and restrained the labour unions and BEST staffers from going ahead with their protest. But, Mr Rao said they had not received the copy of the court order till they went on strike.
Meanwhile, some commuters opposed the strike, saying it was always the passengers who bore the brunt of the problems between the BEST administration and its employees. "Why torture innocent passengers? What wrong have we done to BEST employees and their management?" asked Anita Nayak, a resident of Ghatkopar who travels by bus everyday to go for work in suburban Mulund.
The Amchi Mumbai-Amchi Best (AMAB), an independent forum of public transport enthusiasts, took a neutral stand and said the matter should be resolved as soon as possible. "No doubt commuters are going to face hardships, but it is also true that the BEST workers have also been not paid enough. No harm if BEST is merged with the BMC," a member of the forum said.
Meanwhile, the BEST management has issued internal circulars, warning employees of stringent action if they participated in the strike. It has also threatened to invoke the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against them.
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