Over 3,500 buses of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) Undertaking went off the roads here after its workers' union went on a strike to press for their demands, including timely payment of salaries. Nearly 36,000 BEST employees went on the strike since midnight, putting the citizens to inconvenience as 'Raksha Bandhan' is being celebrated today. The BEST operates around 3,700 buses on 483 routes, ferrying over 30 lakh passengers every day. Its transport wing is facing daily losses of over Rs 2 crore. The BEST employees and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have been at loggerheads for the past few days over several issues, including irregular payment of salaries. The BEST employees' union, led by Shashank Rao, claims to have the support of around 16,500 workers. Rao yesterday said, "We wanted a written assurance from the BMC administration but they did not give it. Now, we have decided not to report to duty from midnight.
No bus will ply tomorrow (August 7)." Rajesh Shetty, an IT professional working in suburban Andheri, failed to get a bus to go to his office today. He said this is the time when BEST employees should show some maturity. "Their demands might be valid, but why do they target us? What is our fault?" Shetty asked. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) has decided to run extra buses. The autorickshaw and taxi unions have been asked by the transport department to ensure more vehicles on the roads. Maharashtra's transport commissioner Praveen Gedam told PTI, "All are allowed to run as stage carriage in Mumbai. Otherwise as per rules, this is the monopoly of BEST. During strike, the monopoly rights are suspended." BEST general manager Surendrakumar Bagde last evening said they have agreed to pay salaries to workers before August 10. He also appealed to the workers not to go on strike. The BEST administration issued a circular yesterday warning the employees of disciplinary action under the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) if they go on strike. Terming the strike as "unfortunate", BEST committee chairman Anil Kokil appealed to the workers to resume duty. "It is unfortunate that our workers have gone on strike on Raksha Bandhan. They must think of the inconvenience caused to the commuters and realise that the BEST administration has assured them to pay the salaries on 10th of every month," Kokil told PTI. He said the BEST administration has also assured the workers of looking into their demands in a step-by-step manner. Mumbai mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar also appealed to the BEST staffers to resume work so that the commuters do not face difficulties.
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