As many as 48,000 employees of Telangana State Road Corporation are set to lose their jobs after the state Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao late on Monday took a harsh decision and announced to sack those employees who failed to report to their duties.
Different employees' and workers' unions of the TSRTC began an indefinite strike on Friday last week across the state, following a call given by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the corporation, demanding merger of the RTC with the government and recruitment to various posts, among other things.
Indicating its firm stand against the strike, the state government had earlier said the stir was illegal and set 6 pm on October 5 as deadline for the agitating employees to report for duty.
During a high-level meeting with state Transport Minister and the Chief Secretary and other officials, the Chief Minister termed the demands of the agitating employees labor union leaders as ‘illegal’ and ‘blackmail tactics’.
A communiqué issued by the Chief Minister’s Office called the protests uncalled for and said that the state government was “magnanimous to hike average employee salary of the Corporation to Rs 50,000 a month”.
While the Chief Minister’s deadline expired on Saturday midnight, the RTC employees decided to go ahead with their agitation. “How dare, he (KCR) sack us en masse. Protest is our fundamental right... KCR has become a fascist. We will knock the doors of justice and we are confident of getting justice,” an agitating employee said after the Chief Minister’s decision.
Both the Opposition parties, the Congress and the BJP smell a ‘hidden agenda’ behind KCR government’s decision "to privatize the Corporation".
“KCR seems to have made up his mind in advance to privatize the corporation in favour of his own people. Land belonging to the RTC tyre retreading unit in Warangal was allotted to KCR's close people without following any norms,” said Congress leader M Shashidhar Reddy.
Reddy added the RTC workers had warned of a strike 35 days back but the government did not make any efforts to address their issues. “The committee to address their grievances, constituted just three days prior to the deadline, was merely an eyewash. It’s a premeditated move to privatize the corporation,” he said.
The BJP is toeing the same line and has expressed solidarity with the agitating TRSRC employees. The party’s state chief spokesperson Krishna Saagar Rao said: “BJP strongly believes that there's a well thought-out plan behind the brazenness of dismissing 48,000 employees of RTC by CM KCR.”
The BJP has warned the state government against liquidating “a very efficient organization like RTC”. “Instead,” the BJP suggested, “with right governance and effective administration, the corporation can be revived to serve the poor and needy of the state.”
However, KCR refuted the Opposition’s allegations and said his government has no interest in completely privatizing the corporation and that the RTC as an organization “would definitely stay”.
At a review meeting with officials on Monday, the Chief Minister said the government has not dismissed the employees but they dismissed themselves by not joining the duty before the expiry of the deadline.
KCR reiterated that for the government and the TSRTC, there are only 1,200 employees.
KCR directed officials to divide the existing TSRTC fleet of 10,400 buses into three categories. Fifty per cent of buses (5,200) belong to the TSRTC and they will remain under it. He said 30 per cent of the buses (3,100) buses taken on hire should be run under the TSRTC supervision and administration. Another 20 percent of the buses (2,100) belong totally to private operators and they will be allowed to ply as the state carriages. TSRTC is currently running 21 per cent hired buses.
KCR said the measures had to be taken due to TSRTC unions' over-action. "They have cut the branch of a tree on which they were sitting," he said.
He asked the Director General of Police to form special teams to prevent TSRTC employees who left the organisation from creating disturbances at the bus depots or bus stations. "The DGP would take appropriate action against anyone except the 1,200," the CM said.
The JAC, comprising various TSRTC employee unions, said they would challenge any such order in the court.
"He (KCR) is saying 48,000 employees have been removed from service. Let him issue the orders. All employees are ready to receive the orders and challenge them in court," said JAC convenor Ashwathama Reddy.
He told reporters after a meeting of JAC leaders that the Chief Minister's statement that new employees will be recruited in TSRTC shows his arrogance. He said removing such a large number of employees was undemocratic.
"So far we have been fighting for protection of RTC but now we need to fight to save democracy," he said. The JAC leader said employee phobia had gripped the Chief Minister.
He said while they were demanding the government to protect RTC, the government was trying to privatise the public utility. He said the employees and people will resist the government's attempts.
The JAC also ruled out calling off the strike, which entered the fourth day on Tuesday. Leaders of various unions said they would go on hunger strike to intensify the protest.