NEW DELHI :The indefinite strike by the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) entered the 44th day by Sunday, but no end is in sight as both the TRS government and the joint action committee (JAC) of the striking employees’ unions have stuck to their stands. Till Friday, as many as 25 RTC workers, mostly drivers and conductors, had died of mostly suicides and heart attacks.

The suicide of a 49-year-old driver, Avula Suresh at Mahabubabad RC depot, has sent shock waves across the state as he left a suicide note blaming Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) being responsible for his extreme step. “I am fed up with the unending strike that entered the 40th day (by Wednesday) and I see no hope of survival of my family,” Suresh, who consumed a pesticide bottle, said.

Since the strike began on 5 October, so far, a dozen workers had committed suicide, while another 13 succumbed to heart attack in hospitals and homes, according to information compiled by the RTC JAC leader P. Raji Reddy.

The family members of the diseased RTC employees had held a demonstration at Sundarayya Vignana Kendram in the city on 10 November. They have not received any ex-gratia or assistance from the government or RTC management, besides not receiving salaries of September till now.

RTC JAC had dropped its major demand of merging the corporation with the government on Wednesday, but there was no response from the government to invite them for talks. The JAC had submitted a charter of 46 demands and most of them related to financial implications.

RTC workers had become panicky as efforts made by the Telangana High Court, too, haven’t yielded results. The court which is hearing a batch of writ petitions urging it to find a solution to the strike, made several efforts to bring both the employees and the RTC management to the negotiating table, but they haven’t succeeded.

The High Court bench, headed by Chief Justice R.S. Chouhan, offered to constitute a three-member committee of retired Supreme Court judges to find an amicable solution to the strike. The JAC has agreed to it and even said that they would consider calling off the strike in case the committee is set up immediately. However, Chief Secretary S.K. Joshi who represented the government opposed the move.

The Chief Secretary contended that the strike cannot and shall not be solved through mediation efforts by a panel of retired SC judges, as it comes under the jurisdiction of industrial disputes Act. “Only the labour court can look into the strike issue and no other body,” maintained Joshi in his counter filed in the High Court on Wednesday. The High Court has posted the matter for 18 November.

The RTC employees have no hope of a labour court resolving the issue as the labour commission had already declared that the strike as “illegal” as RTC comes under the ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act). Moreover, the government had declared that the employees had wasted two chances given to them to join duties unconditionally—on 5 October and again on 5 November.

RTC JAC convener Ashwathama Reddy told this newspaper on Friday that the major reason for workers committing suicides was Chief Minister KCR’s statement last month that all the employees who had gone on strike were “automatically self-dismissed”. “This statement of a Chief Minister had demoralised our employees; we had never seen such a statement against a valid strike,” Reddy said.

The Chief Minister had said in November first week that he would privatise all the 5,100 bus routes now with RTC in case the striking employees don’t join duties by 5 November. This meant that the RTC would not have any routes to operate and the public transport corporation would be declared shut, explained Reddy.

Now, there is a writ petition being heard by the High Court on the privatisation of bus routes and the court had issued a stay on the move till Monday. The Chief Secretary who filed a counter on behalf of the government said that the state had powers to issue bus permits to private players as per the newly enacted Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 by the Government of India.

RTC JAC continued to take the help of the Opposition parties like BJP, Congress and the Left parties and taken up several protests, including laying siege of official residences of the Chief Minister and other ministers etc. However, none of them have succeeded as the government used police to crush them and took the leaders into preventive custody on a daily basis.

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