he current RTC crisis in Telangana has been created by the government, and particularly by the chief minister himself.
Public transport is a basic civic need. It is as vital as food, water and health. The world over, governments are focusing on providing efficient, cost-effective and climate-friendly transport to its citizens. In many developed countries, where most services are hived off to the private sector, they still retain control of public transport. In most European countries, however, public transport is largely government run. Many people who ride in cars today would have, at one time, come from their village to Hyderabad in an RTC bus and made their fortune — including probably our CM.
The current RTC crisis in Telangana has been created by the government, and particularly by the chief minister himself. The CM can go to any extent to accomplish his objectives, be it the move to shift the secretariat, demolish heritage buildings, build projects which are never going to make economic sense and withdraw benefits to deprived sections. It’s a government by one man for one family. So far, he got away with several of his whimsical decisions, but this issue involves lives and livelihoods. We must push for a resolution.
Why do the RTC workers feel cheated and justified in striking? The issues that led to the situation are quite obvious. (1) The most significant fact is that the CM himself promised to make RTC employees equal to government employees during the Telangana agitation and as an election promise. (2) As a major participant in the struggle for a separate Telangana, they felt a sense of ownership on the state and when the state’s Andhra neighbour merged the APSRTC with the state government, their pain intensified. (3) Taxing RTC on the one hand and denying funds on the other hand, leading to the deterioration of the RTC infrastructure. This also gives credence to the theory that the crisis was created by the government just to pave the way for privatisation and hand over the RTC to cronies. RTC workers and unions saw this coming and have been crying hoarse. However, many in the public saw this as a typical union demand for less accountability and more pay. In this case, they are grossly wrong. The workers, who toiled all their working lives for the RTC, had a legitimate demand to protect their jobs by being absorbed into government service, which should have been a natural corollary, as was accorded to their colleagues in the APSRTC and other RTCs. I am not saying that the RTC has to be absorbed into the government. I am merely saying it is not an unreasonable demand, and the correct way forward would be initiating dialogue, followed by reforms to make RTC a profitable company. The RTC’s management was never allowed to function efficiently and resolve the internal crisis. On top of it, the government with its policies burdened it with free passes, which should have been reimbursed annually. The current crisis is not due to employees, but it has completely to do with the government and its style of functioning.
Now the crisis has taken a serious turn — a human tragedy, with drivers, conductors and workers resorting to self-immolation. With one stroke, the government dismissed 50,000 hardworking employees who have worked decades in public service. They are driven to death because of the insecurity caused by removing them overnight. This never happened in any state in India. We should not forget that RTC workers were at the forefront of our Telangana movement, and they feel that the CM is enjoying his power due to their sacrifices. Now they are prepared to sacrifice their lives to protect their jobs. They need everyone’s support.
What is the way out for the RTC? With hope that good sense prevails, before any more workers commit suicide, I am suggesting two steps which will address the issue in the larger and long-term interests of Telangana. For this to succeed, I also request the RTC workers to abide by the process and not be blindsided by ego. All stakeholders should exercise restraint to find a viable solution.
An expert committee should be constituted by the government and included in it should be independent experts, economists and representatives of RTC workers. The terms of reference for this committee should be to suggest a workable solution to address all the legitimate and genuine demands of workers within a three-month period. In addition, that committee might suggest specific steps to make the RTC profitable over the next five years. The committee should have a stipulated deadline to submit a detailed report within two months.
Until then, the pre-October 5 situation should be restored. The government should issue orders to that effect, which means taking back the dismissal of 50,000 workers. Both the RTC workers and the government should not be egoistical in embracing this new situation. This should be a precondition for setting up the committee. The government and RTC workers should publicly commit that the committee findings will be binding and final.
In order to make this process successful, all political parties including the Opposition should publicly announce that they will abide by the committee’s findings. I sincerely appeal to the CM to agree to this process, or something similar. I am not insisting that this is the only way, but without a proper process the RTC crisis is going to hurt everyone. More workers will be likely to commit or attempt suicide. This will tarnish the image of Telangana and its economic status. It will have long-term consequences on governance. Knowing the CM’s mindset, any idea emanating from outside is not good enough for him. My humble request to him is to come out with his own idea, even paraphrasing this one is fine, but please initiate a dialogue. One thing is for sure, CMs come and go, governments come and go, but RTC workers and our buses will stay with the people, taking them around in good times and bad times. That service can’t be provided by any CM, but can be done only by RTC workers. Let the RTC workers do their job.
Finally, I appeal to the CM to save lives and save the RTC in the larger interests of the state of Telangana. Dialogue is a crucial part of democracy.