Mumbai: 2,000 BEST workers told to vacate quarters, 300 warned of dismissal

Day two of strike: Families, admin clash in Bhoiwada

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Mumbai: 2,000 BEST workers told to vacate quarters, 300 warned of dismissal
In the absence of BEST buses, auto-rickshaws transport commuters outside Kurla railway station

With no breakthrough in sight, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) issued Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) notices to 300 striking employees, warning them of dismissal and arrest for going on strike. It also issued eviction notices to 2,000 employees, asking them to vacate staff quarters.

The harsh move comes in light of the fact that if the administration gives into employees' demands, it will have to shoulder an additional burden of Rs 900 crore, which will trickle down to users in the form of tariff hikes. Meanwhile, the BEST strike continued on the second day, inconveniencing 27 lakh commuters.

Sources say that BEST's parent organisation, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), is the real culprit here. They have been procrastinating the decision on a proposal to merge BMC and BEST budgets, which could resolve the stand-off. The merging would also render muscle to the cash-strapped BEST undertaking.

On Tuesday evening, eviction notices were served to staffers living in BEST-appointed quarters in Colaba, Bhoiwada, Parel and Wadala. On Wednesday, more people were served notices and asked to resume work.

At Bhoiwada, there was a stand-off between BEST officials, who went to serve the eviction notice, and the families of employees who opposed them. As a precautionary measure, union members called police in case the situation turned violent.

"The administration has stooped so low that they are preventing children and women from entering their own homes," says Shashank Rao, president of Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS), "Employees are fighting for their rights here. The women will go on a strike at Wadala depot on Thursday morning."

Despite the union's threats, the administration remained firm. "We urge employees to withdraw the strike which is illegal," said Dr Surendrakumar Bagde, general manager of BEST Undertaking.

Additionally, the police will investigate whether the employees had participated in the strike. If they have, they can be arrested and dismissed from their duty under the provisions of the MESMA Act.

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