Hyderabad, TELANGANA — An hour long press conference held by Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) on Thursday, a few hours after his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won the Huzurnagar Assembly bypoll by an overwhelming margin of 43,348 votes, seems to have affected the 21-day long strike of Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees.
On Friday, an RTC driver Raji Reddy lodged a complaint at the local Kukatpally police station in Hyderabad against Ashwathama Reddy, the convener of TSRTC Joint Action Committee (JAC) which is spearheading the strike demanding the corporation’s merger with the government.
On Thursday, Rao had openly criticised the worker’s unions and said, “No one can save the RTC. I am telling the truth”. To dampen the strike, the Chief Minister had asked workers to “leave the unions and start work”.
Reddy, who is a driver at the Kukatpally bus depot, has informed the police that two workers were pushed to suicide because the four employees unions which have come together to form the JAC have not been able to reassure their families that the strike will lead to a positive outcome. The driver complained that Ashwathama Reddy abetted the suicide. He later went to his bus depot and requested the RTC management to take him back on the rolls.
On 7 October, the Chief Minister had ‘sacked’ 48,000 striking employees of the unions by declaring their leave of absence as “self-dismissal”. The High Court of Telangana has, however, not agreed to this claim.
Dealing a second blow to the workers on the same day, Osmania University police disrupted a meeting of the striking workers at the varsity premises. While members of opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress, were present at the meeting, the police asked the workers to vacate the university grounds. The varsity administration also declared that student outfits which invited the striking TSRTC employees to the campus had not taken their permission to hold the meeting.
The police was, however, forced to allow the meeting to proceed as both the striking workers and the students opposed the move to arrest and remove them from the spot. Students of Osmania University have been supporting the RTC strike by holding dharnas and rallies on their campus since 5 October.
The striking workers said that the police action on the workers in Osmania University and the complaint filed by Reddy were instigated by the state government. Though Chief Minister Rao had set up a committee to look into the workers’ demands earlier this week, the Chief Minister’s verbal attack on the unions has demoralised some of the workers, leaders of the strike said.
In his press conference, KCR had accused the unions of pushing TSRTC to losses. The Chief Minister, who has been pushing privatisation of TSRTC for a long time, said, “When the government runs a hired bus, per kilometer the bus turns in a profit of 0.75 paisa. On the contrary an RTC bus draws a loss of Rs 13 per kilometer. Who is responsible for this loss? Is this what the unions had taught the workers?” Rao, who was the union minister for labour and employment in 2004, further stated, “The RTC employees have an average salary of Rs 50,000 per month. As employees who have got the opportunity to work, it is their responsibility to make profits for the RTC”. Blaming the workers for driving the corporation to bankruptcy, the Chief Minister said, “Per year the government had pumped Rs 900 crore to save the corporation. But the government has its limitations”.
In a press conference held on Friday, the workers led by Ashwathama Reddy and Thomas Reddy called the Chief Minister a “profit monger who wants to deny the public’s right to cheap transportation”. In his media meet, the Chief Minister spoke like a “private company owner and not an elected representative”, the unions said.
With the Chief Minister and unions locking horns, the strike which has crippled public transportation in the state is expected to spill into the coming month. The High Court of Telangana is expected to hear the RTC dispute on 28 October.