As employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) intensify protests over a list of 26 demands, including a merger with the government, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has ruled out softening his administration's stand on the issue. The Chief Minister has ordered Director-General of Police Mahender Reddy to arrest anybody who tries to disrupt bus services. Additional personnel and resources, including CCTV cameras, are to be deployed at bus depots.
This comes after Srinivas Reddy, a bus driver, set himself on fire at his residence in Khammam district on Saturday. He suffered 90 per cent burn injuries and was shifted to the DRDO Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad where died this morning, according to news agency PTI.
The opposition BJP called Srinivas Reddy's death "heartbreaking" and said it held Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao "directly responsible" for the incident.
"It is heartbreaking to see the RTC driver from Khammam, Srinivas Reddy, dying by self immolation. The BJP extends heartfelt condolences to his family. The BJP holds CM KCR directly responsible for his death," the party said in a statement.
"It's only after KCR's brazen decision to dismiss all 48,000 employees and after his provocative statements, Srinivas Reddy has taken the hasty decision to end his life," it added.
News of Srinivas Reddy's death led to protests at various parts across Hyderabad, with striking staff members blaming the state government for his death. TSRTC employees also gathered in large numbers outside the Apollo Hospital but were taken away by police..
Chief Minister Rao has directed officials to ensure services are 100 per cent operational over the next three days; more than 5,200 buses are to be run by staff recruited on a priority basis, while a further 3,100 will be run by temporarily-hired drivers and conductors.
A further 2,100 buses will be given stage carriage route permission.
The Telangana government has assured that normal service will resume by October 21.
K Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, has ruled out talks with employees choosing to stay away from work. He also said they would not be taken back into service.
"We are not shaken or afraid. We won't tolerate any attempt to stop buses or organise protests at bus depots," he said, adding that his government would not tolerate 'goondaism'.
KCR also said employees who had reported for duty would be paid September salaries. Last week, some of the nearly 50,000 employees who had gone on strike told NDTV they had not been paid their salaries ahead of Dussehra.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister hit back at criticism from the opposition, pointing to the irony of the BJP opposing privatisation of the corporation while planning the same for Indian Railways.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) leader Uttam Kumar Reddy claimed it was KCR's approach that had pushed employees to the brink.
"KCR wants workers and families to starve because they did not obey his orders. Such a dictatorial approach is not acceptable in a democracy," he said.
Several protests have been organised over the next week.
There will be 'vanta varpu' (cooking by the roadside) on Sunday and a protest by central trade unions at Dharna Chowk in Hyderabad on Monday, when there will also be simultaneous protests outside bus depots.
Striking employees will also look to form a human chain and block traffic on Tuesday, with a student union protest rally and a bike rally also planned. The employees' joint action committee has called for a state-wide bandh on October 19.
So far, however, the state has remained unmoved over demands to merge the RTC with the government. "The Chief Minister has never promised that and it is not going to happen," Transport Minister P Ajay Kumar declared.
With input from PTI
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