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Court asks BEST union to meet govt panel to end stir

Saturday, January 12, 2019
By Raju Vernekar

Revenue worth nearly Rs 10 cr lost; 50 lakh commuters hit as 3,700 buses go off the road

The Bombay High Court on Friday asked the BEST Workers' Union to "take the first step" towards resolving its dispute with the state and BMC by meeting the committee set up by the state government in this regard on Saturday.

A bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and N M Jamdar noted that as the authorities had already constituted a committee and were willing to resolve the matter, the union must now make efforts to end the deadlock.

The court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Datta Mane, seeking a direction to the BEST workers to call off the strike immediately. The petitioner argued that the strike had resulted in much inconvenience to over 50 lakh commuters in the city as 3,700 BEST buses had gone off the road.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the Maharashtra government had set up a committee, headed by the chief secretary, to hold talks with the union and secretaries of the urban development and transport departments were also part of this committee.

"The city has a certain reputation. So many commuters are affected on a daily basis. You can't hold the city to ransom by withholding essential services," the bench said adding that "You take the first step now. Call a meeting of all your members and others supporting you and take a decision to create a congenial environment and hold talks with the government. Once the union holds the meeting and takes a "positive decision", its representatives will meet the newly-constituted government committee on Saturday morning”.

The members of the BEST workers’ union were in a meeting till late Friday night. Even as the strike entered the fourth day on Friday, ST ran 22 bus services to help out harrowed commuters. Western and Central Railways and MMRDA (Metro rail) also ran extra services. Due to the strike the BEST lost a revenue of nearly Rs 10 crore.

Chief Minister Devendra  Phadnavis, who was in Delhi on Friday, said that the issues would be resolved soon. Nearly 32,000 BEST employees are on an indefinite strike since Tuesday to press for demands, including higher salaries, revision of pay scale for junior employees and merger of the budget of the loss making BEST with that of the BMC.

The BMC and the BEST, through their counsels Anil Sakhre and Darius Khambatta respectively, told the court that the state's laws prohibit employees engaged in providing essential services from going on strike. They said an industrial court had prohibited BEST workers from going on strike, therefore the strike had no legal sanction. They, however, agreed to hold a discussion with the union to come up with "long-term, comprehensive solutions".

Lakhs of commuters were inconvenienced with autorickshaws, taxis and private transport buses pressed into service proving inadequate to take on the passenger load catered to by the BEST buses on a daily basis.

Earlier BEST, had several rounds of talks with union leaders in the presence of Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta and BEST general manager Surendra Bagde but could not break the deadlock.

The state government has already invoked the stringent Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against the striking BEST employees but the move has not been able to force workers to call off their strike.

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