Bengaluru: Threatened by tens of thousands of striking public transport workers, the longest strike of its kind in the newest Indian state, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on Saturday night said he will take an unprecedented step to privatize public transport bus routes to avert the chaos.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Rao announced that 50% of the state's bus routes — about 5100 out of the total 10,400 — will be privatized. He also set a three-day deadline for protesting Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees to return to work so that they don't get fired. Close to 50,000 workers are striking, who KCR says would be considered "self-dismissed" if they continue the protests.
Seizing of a state-owned leviathan sector like transport and giving it to private players is a rare move in India. It has often taken an enormous amount of time and debates for both state and central governments to make such a movie, for its potential to cause job losses and social upheaval.
"I appeal to the RTC employees to take this opportunity, keeping in view the welfare of their families. We want to give them (striking employees) one more chance," he said. "If the employees do not join duty unconditionally in three days, that is 5 November midnight, the other routes will also be given to private operators."
Rao has been steadfastly refusing to meet the 26 demands of the striking employees, who began their stir on 5 October. The demands include more jobs, more pay and a complete merger of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), the behemoth corporation that almost owns the state's roads, with the state government. The privatization is in many ways the exact opposite of what the unions went to strike for, and Rao on Saturday reiterated ruling out any possibility of merging TSRTC with the state government. "If I do that, 57 other corporations will also ask to be merged. It's practically impossible to do that," he said.
The strike became more powerful as three workers committed suicide and another died of a heart attack during the protests. TSRTC happened to back the CM, better known as KCR, during the statehood agitations, which put him in power with an overwhelming majority for two consecutive terms. As a mark of protest, the corporation in October removed from its flag the pink colour, which is the trademark of KCR's political party Telangana Rashtra Samithi's flag. The government, in turn, refused to pay the salaries of striking workers in September, a move that is now being contested in Telangana High Court.
Press Trust of India contributed to this story