Hyderabad: Employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) refused to call off their indefinite strike. The 17-day-old strike to press for salary hikes and merger of the corporation with the state government, which began on 5 October, has crippled public transport with a large proportion of state-operated buses not operating and leading to extraordinary rush on the Hyderabad Metro Rail services, especially during peak hours.

The TSRTC unions, led by a joint action committee (JAC) and supported by leaders of some Opposition parties, held demonstrations at the Mahatma Gandhi bus depot and the Musheerabad bus depot in Hyderabad on Monday. The JAC has also planned a series of protests for the entire week, which includes a hunger strike along with children of TSRTC employees. It has also asked the 48,000-plus employees of TSRTC to not celebrate Diwali. JAC leaders also met Telangana governor Tamilisai Soundarajan and submitted a representation to her on Monday.

The TSRTC management is running a section of its buses by hiring private drivers and conductors on a temporary basis.

On Sunday, two more drivers died. However, the cause of death in both cases was heart attack. Besides, only one of them, Khaja Miyan, a native of Khammam district, was an employee of TSRTC, while the other is G. Mallayya, of Nalgonda district, a temporary driver.

The death of the TSRTC driver takes the number of corporation employees who have passed away since the strike began to three. Two of them passed away more than a week ago—one after self-immolation while the other committed suicide by hanging.

The Telangana high court had on 18 October asked the state government and the union leaders to hold talks. However, there has been no headway so far, though the unions have said that they are ready to hold talks.

The JAC points out that salary increases are due since 2017 and also insists on a merger with the state government, a demand that was turned down by chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao or KCR. The chief minister had said, after the strike began, that all the 48,000 employees who participated in the strike will be considered as “self-dismissed" and later called the strike “illegal and authorized".

The JAC will continue with its protests, said Raji Reddy, the president of the TSRTC Employees Union, which is part of the JAC.

The TSRTC should be merged with the state government as it is a public service. The corporation is essentially a loss-making body and about 35% of its expenses is towards operating expenses, mainly to buy diesel for the buses, said a TSRTC official who didn’t want to be quoted.

The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), led by KCR, has so far mostly maintained a silence on the issue. However, last week, senior TRS leader and Rajya Sabha MP K. Keshava Rao wrote a letter to the TSRTC and the state government to hold talks and end the impasse. However, his appeal bore no fruit.

On Monday, protesting employees and union leaders chanted slogans against KCR and the state government, with some protesters squatting on the road and even lying down near the Mahatma Gandhi bus station near Malakpet in Hyderabad.

Union leaders like Ashwathama Reddy, who are part of the JAC, also held another protest at the Musheerabad bus depot.

The bus strike continued to affect travellers who rely mostly on the state run buses for cheap commuting.

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