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BEST unions call for a strike tomorrow

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
By Raju Vernekar

Even as the BEST administration is moving towards privatisation by hiring buses on wet lease basis from private parties to tide over financial stringency, as a protest, the employees’ unions are planning to observe a strike tomorrow.

BEST Workers’ Union leader Shashank Rao told The Afternoon DC that nine unions which are part of the 'BEST Sanyukt Kamgaar Kruti Samiti', will join the strike as a protest against privatisation, which includes hiring of buses on contract basis. “This will lead to upward revision of BEST bus fares, reduction in allowances of over 40,000 employees,” he said.

“We have been consistently voicing our objections to the wet-leasing arrangement. But now, we are left with no recourse,” General Secretary of the BEST Kamgar Sanghatana Jagnarayan Kahar said.

Basically, the BEST had sought a grant of Rs. 1,000 crores from the BMC to bail out the undertaking. However, BMC put many conditions to increase the revenue, before releasing the grant to BEST. Suhas Samant, Member of the BEST committee, said that in order to improve financial condition of the BEST, privatisation is inevitable. Over 30 lakh commuters travel daily by BEST buses and are likely to face hardships due to the strike. It may be recalled that last year BEST workers had gone on strike to protest against non-payment of wages.

BEST, which is facing an estimated loss of nearly Rs. 880 crores (2018-2019), is planning to procure nearly 450 mini buses in two phases, on wet lease basis from private parties. The ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combine in the BMC has already cleared the proposal to wet-lease 450 buses for seven years for Rs. 612 crores. Of the buses, 200 will be AC mini, 200 non-AC mini and 50 midi. The mini buses will have a seating capacity of 21 and standing space for nine passengers. The current fleet includes 3,337 buses.

The wet-leasing is expected to ensure savings of Rs. 9 per km per for AC buses and Rs. 33 per km per midi bus. The mini and midi buses will be deployed on feeder and office routes.

The seven year contracts have been awarded to Anthony Garages Pvt. Ltd. and Shree Krupa Services Pvt. Ltd. to provide 225 buses in the first phase. The buses will be provided along with drivers. BEST conductors will man the routes and take care of ticketing. The utility will also provide parking space to private contractors at four depots. They will also bear fuel expenses. The buses will sport advertisements that earn revenue for the BEST and will bear its monogram.

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