Hyderabad: Perhaps in a first-of-its-kind in the country, taxi hailing apps, Uber and Ola, are being roped in to make up for the inconvenience being caused to people by the indefinite strike called by several trade unions of Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), commencing Saturday. The government is in talks to engage these private taxi aggregators to meet the festival rush of Dussehra next week.

Close to 10,400 RTC buses went off roads as around 57,000 employees of TSRTC went on strike in response to a call given by a joint action committee (JAC) of several recognised trade unions since Friday midnight. The employees have been demanding, among other things, that RTC be taken over by the government to bail out it from the deep financial crisis.

This is the third time that the RTC unions have given strike calls in the last few years and the government could successfully scuttle their attempts twice in the past. There is an unbridgeable gap between both the sides on the extent of financial support given from the exchequer to the state-run corporation. The RTC JAC claims that the strike had become inevitable to them to save the public sector undertaking.

However, the K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) headed TRS government has taken a stern view of the strike call by the RTC at a time when the festival season which brings revenues to the corporation and made it clear that it won’t tolerate shut down of bus services by the employees unions. The Chief Minister has made it clear that he won’t allow strike in the RTC.

A three-member committee of senior IAS officers, including Somesh Kumar (special chief secretary, revenue), K. Ramakrishna Rao (special chief secretary, finance) and Sunil Shrma (principal secretary, transport), which was authorised by the Chief Minister, held a series of negotiations with the JAC representatives in the last two days to avert the strike, but couldn’t achieve any results.

As the employees were adamant on continuing the strike, Chief Minister KCR who returned from Delhi after meeting the Prime Minister on Friday cancelled the three-men committee and asked the officials to crack down on the striking employees and make alternative arrangements for public transport. The nine days before Dussehra are celebrated as “Bathukamma festival” in Telangana.

A senior IAS officer Sandeep Sultania has been appointed as the commissioner of transport and was directed to make adequate arrangements for smooth transport of pubic during the festival season. He, according to sources, got in touch with the executives of Uber and Ola and discussed about making available enough private vehicles for the public from Saturday.

These two taxi hailing applications are expected to keep ready around 10,000 taxi cars for plying between Hyderabad and other long distance destinations like Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Bangalore etc.

The government has turned another 3,000 private buses and stage carriages and contract carriages to run on regular RTC routes to meet the public rush. As many as 3,000 contract employees were hired to run these vehicles and additional recruitment would be taken up if necessary. The bus depots and major routes were provided with police security too.

Telangana Transport Minister Puvvada Ajay Kumar told this newspaper on Saturday that the government won’t hesitate to use the essential service maintenance act (ESMA) against the striking employees of RTC.

RTC JAC leader Ashwathama Reddy alleged that the government was treating the employees as “unlawful elements” by using ESMA and it was against to their legitimate rights. “We have been asking for reimbursing around Rs 5,000 crore due to the RTC from the government. We have been asking to save RTC which works for the benefit of the common man,” Reddy said.

There have been reports of minor skirmishes between the striking employees of RTC and the temporary staff hired to run the buses. At some places, stones were pelted on buses and a few passengers were reported injured. The police have warned the striking staff against disrupting the buses and threatened to arrest the JAC functionaries, if needed.

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