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Karnataka road transport staff makes U-turn, to continue strike

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Bengaluru, Dec 14 (IANS): Making a U-turn hours after withdrawing 4-day strike and resuming bus services, the Karnataka road transport employees decided on Sunday night to continue the agitation till all their demands were met by the state government.

“As our main demand to make us government employees has not been met, we will continue the strike,” Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) Employees’ Union Secretary R. Chandru declared at Freedom Park in the city centre, where the workers have been staging sit-in demonstration since Thursday.

Though the Union leaders agreed to withdraw the strike after talks with state Transport Minister Laxman Savadi, state Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai and state Revenue Minister R. Ashoka at the state secretariat (Vikas Soudha), they reversed their decision even as drivers and conductors resumed bus services across cities and towns after hearing them on news channels.

Earlier in the evening, Savadi told reporters that the state government had agreed to offer health insurance, Rs 30 lakh aid to employees who died of Covid on duty, wage revision and inter-corporation transfers.

“The demand to give the KSRTC staff the status of government employees has not been accepted, as the state is not in a position to bear the additional financial burden,” asserted Savadi, who is one of the 3 Deputy Chief Ministers in the state.

Savadi also threatened to deploy private buses across the state from Monday if the staff did not withdraw the strike by Sunday night.

KSRTC has about 37,019 employees and runs a fleet of 17,138 buses through three subsidiaries, including Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC) and North West Road Transport Corporation (NWRTC).

Rejecting Savadi’s appeal to withdraw the strike, hundreds of KSRTC employees said they would not relent till all their other demands were met in toto.

Of the total fleet, BMTC has 6,500 buses, KSRTC 5,500 buses and the remaining are with the other two corporations (NEKRTC and NWRTC).

The road transport behemoth operates intra-state services in cities, towns and villages across the southern state and inter-state services to all five neighbouring states — Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

In a related development, Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has appealed to the staff to call off their strike.

“An effort was made to resolve the problems of the KSRTC staff during the day-long meetings between Savadi and their Union leaders. Except their demand to consider them as government employees, all other demands have been met. Hence, I appeal to them to end the strike and report for duty,” said Yediyurappa in a statement here.

The chief minister also expressed concern over the inconvenience caused to the public and the loss to the Corporation due to the strike by the staff.

The sudden strike since Thursday disrupted the public transport, forcing thousands of commuters to use private buses or other transport modes in cities and towns across the state.

With all the four corporations reeling under huge losses due to the lockdown and the guideline to carry 50 per cent of the bus capacity to ensure social distancing, salaries to the employees were delayed over the months till November.

As Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha president Kodihalli Chandrashekar was leading the strike for a section of the employees, the state government refused to talk to him, as he is a farmer and has nothing to do with road transport.

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