Despite being employed a driver with the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) for the last 11 years, Sukesh N (name changed) is still officially a ‘trainee.’
He works for up to 12 hours a day on a regular basis, needless to say without any extra pay for overtime work. With a meagre salary of Rs 4,000 per month he also struggles to support his family, including three kids. Added to his woes, damage incurred to his vehicle during operations years ago has resulted in Rs 1,000 being cut from his pay each month until the total penalty of Rs 45,000 is paid off.
As many as 30,000 drivers, conductors and other staff currently share Sukesh’s fate as ‘trainees,’ across four transport corporations in the State, said members of the KSRTC Employees Joint Committee. Dinakar N, one such ‘trainee’ based in Hassan, described why the bus strike was taking place. “We face many problems in our work and we are upset for the simple reason that instead of listening to our woes, the State government is resorting to tricks to suppresss our agitation,” he said.
The problem is not restricted to trainee employees alone. Many regular staff members complained that corruption is rampant at KSRTC depots. “Paying bribes up to Rs 3,000 per week is inevitable if I want to work in a problem-free atmosphere. Only then do I get good routes like the Bangalore-Mysore or Bangalore-Hubli. Otherwise I will be asked to go to Dharmastha in a shuttle bus which needs to stop in many places along the route,” said Sannayya M, a driver.
For many employees, however, the most common problem centres around working conditions. “There have been instances where I have not had a single spell of leave for four months. If I don’t obey official orders, I get punished in the form of placements to risky routes,” said a driver-cum-conductor.
In spite of the strike, many bus staff have attempted to return to work over the last two days, braving threats by colleagues. Many claimed to do this out of concern for passengers who might otherwise be stranded.
Defying the strike
Yogesh D S, a driver-cum-conductor, decided to take route number 360 B (KBS to Attibele), bowing to the requests of senior officials in the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC).
As there were only a few bus service, as many as 200 passengers boarded his bus on Thursday afternoon as he set out towards Majestic from Attibele. As the bus approached Bommasandra, two motorycle-borne individuals intercepted the bus and began to throw stones. The front windshield was smashed. Yogesh stopped the bus as passengers panicked. Forunately, there were no injuries.
“The thugs vanished in no time. I don’t understand the logic behind throwing stones at buses. A passenger in the bus could be your own brother or sister one day,” he said.
Those employees who had decided to work in contravention of the strike also found themselves saddled with long hours on Thursday and Friday.
Prakash, a driver from BMTC depot number 3, described how he was forced back into duty at night after having worked all day. “I had finished my morning shift and when I tried to deposit our cash, the depot manager declined to accept it as he wanted me to stay on for the night and operate the bus the next day also,” he said.
“As per the rule, I am supposed to go home. On the other hand, union leaders are putting pressure on me and other working drivers not to go to work at any cost.”
The Manager of the BMTC Depot number 3, Chandrappa said out of the 233 buses at the depot, some 22 were able to operate in the morning, although by afternoon, the number had reduced to five. “The situation was the same in many other depots across the City throughout the day,” he said.