HYDERABAD: Undeterred by the ongoing strike in the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (RTC) that entered fourth week this weekend, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has made it clear that nothing short of restructuring of the state-owned corporation that results in part-privatisation would solve its problems. The RTC strike has become a burning issue, causing suicide of two RTC employees.

Efforts are underway to force or persuade a section of striking employees to join duties by Monday when the High Court would hear a batch of petitions on the strike. During its last hearing last week, the High Court suggested that both the parties—the government and the employees—come closer to talks so that the impasse can be resolved.

A total 48,000 employees of RTC are on strike since 5 October, thus crippling services of around 10,500 buses that transport around 40 lakh passengers daily. The government hired around 5,000 buses, cabs and other transport vehicles to ply on roads to mitigate the problems of passengers. There has been a steep fall in bus services in rural and remote areas.

For the woes of the public transporter, the Chief Minister has blamed the trade unions in the RTC that formed into a joint action committee (JAC) . Addressing a gathering after the win of his TRS candidate in the Huzurnagar Assembly by-election on Thursday, the Chief Minister said that the recognised unions were responsible for the financial problems of the corporation through frequent strikes.

The unions in their competitive politics to secure recognised status in the corporation had been giving strike calls on and off, mostly on flimsy grounds, thus financially bleeding the RTC over the years, said KCR. He blamed the unions for going for strike this month at the onset of the festival season of Batukamma, Dussehra and Diwali, which is a profitable period for RTC.

“The RTC in its present form will not and cannot survive for 1,000%,” he made it clear while addressing the media at his official residence Pragati Bhavan on Thursday evening. The Chief Minister also flatly turned down the demand of striking employees that RTC be merged with the government, as has been done in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

The Chief Minister, who earlier held the portfolio of transport in the Cabinet of Chandrababu Naidu from 1997 to 1999, has held a series of discussions with experts and officials in the last few weeks. “I am the one who has immense knowledge about the functioning and problems of RTC as a former RTC minister. Only a structural change (meaning part-privatisation) can save it,” he said.

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019, which came into force from 1 September, all over the country appears to be the rule book for KCR to bring in these structural changes. The Chief Minister told the media that the BJP leaders who had been backing the RTC strike and privatisation of the corporation should go and discuss the same with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is also a BJP leader and who brought in the Act.

“The amended MV Act that was framed based on wider consultations with a group of ministers from the states, clearly states that the state governments should take the responsibility of improving the public transport in the needy areas,” the Chief Minister said. He claimed that he, as the CM, can issue route permits private buses in specified areas for the benefit of the public.

Officials in the CM’s office told this newspaper that the Chief Minister was referring to Clause 31 in the Act which says that the state government can issue permits to private players for the good of public, trade and industry and to promote competitiveness among the transport service providers in any area of desirability, keeping in view the local requirements. This Clause is inserted in the Clause 67 of the principal Act.

Keeping this in view, KCR now plans to issue another 2,100 permits for private bus operators, in addition to the existing 3,000 hired buses in the RTC that the total component of the private players would be around 50%. This, in a way, would take away the monopoly of trade unions on the RTC services.

“If the strike goes on like this for another five-six days, I will issue 5,000 bus permits so that there can be glut in the transport services and the public will not feel the impact of the strike,” KCR said. He is also planning to write to the Prime Minister, explaining his position on the ongoing RTC strike. A copy of the letter will also be handed over to Governor Tamilisai.

However, the striking JAC leaders lashed out at the CM for threatening them with dire consequences and made it clear that they won’t back out from the stir. “This is not the way a Chief Minister should talk and behave in a democracy like ours. We have every right to go on strike and our stir is legally valid. The CM and his government are responsible for the woes of the RTC,” JAC convener Ashwathama Reddy said.

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