In the wake of the Karnataka State Road Transport Employees League (KSRTEL) calling for an indefinite strike demanding their salaries be brought on par with other government employees, normal life was disrupted across the state on Wednesday.
Many passengers in Bengaluru were stranded at major bus terminals, including Majestic, Shantinagar, Shivajinagar, KR Market, Yeshwantpur. The busiest bus stations including Majestic, were deserted. Several commuters in the city had to rely on auto-rickshaws, cabs and private buses due to the strike.
Except Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts in the state, where private bus operators control the market and state transport corporations are yet to make a major penetration, all other districts were severely affected by this protest.
The strike was almost total with most buses staying put in 238 bus depots across the state.
The workers of Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), North Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC), and North Eastern Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC), under the banner of Karnataka State Road Transport Employees League have called for an indefinite strike starting from Wednesday, asking the government to implement the salary system as per the sixth pay commission.
"Nearly 1.37 lakh employees work in all four corporations which operate 238 depots across the state with a fleet of 20000 buses. Of these employees nearly 80 per cent are bus drivers, conductors, mechanics, while the remaining 20 per cent are support staff such as officers, depot managers, clerks and other class D staff members. All four corporations together operate 60,000 trips, which can never be matched by private operators," KSRTEL treasurer Jagadeesha R. told IANS.
He added that the KSRTEL committee members had toured almost one month before issuing notice to the state government and their meetings were not held secretly. "We held it openly and everyone knew about this day. If the government is trying to act this way, it only speaks about its double standards," he said.
Although, the state government took steps to deploy private buses, cabs and auto-rickshaws in cities like Bengaluru, Mysuru and other cities but it could not match the four road transport corporations bus services.
The Transport Department's repeated warnings to private operators not to overcharge, did not seem to have worked as there were complaints galore across the state that private operators were fleecing customers by charging hefty amounts of Rs 500 to Rs 1000 for a distance of 50 to 60 kms.
The Transport Department stated that it had issued a rate list for private buses, and commuters can lodge complaints if private vehicles are overcharging.
In a rare case, a few BMTC drivers from Shantinagar depot took the buses on to the streets, ferrying passengers for free.
"We are being blamed for causing inconvenience to the public, which is not our intention. Ferrying passengers for free is our way of saying it," Raju, a driver from Shantinagar depot, told media persons. He was garlanded by pro-Kannada activists for defying the call given by the KSRTEL.
Kodohalli Chandrashekhar, honorary president of KSRTEL which is spearheading the strike, said the employees were firm in their resolve and would not end the strike until their demands were met, even if it meant staying off the roads for several months. He blamed the State government for the inconvenience caused to the public.
"We had given a 21-day notice before the strike, but the state government did not act to resolve the issue. Even now the government is adamant and has ruled out negotiations," he said.
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