MUMBAI: A vacation bench of the Bombay high court on Friday held the ongoing strike by Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation(MSRTC) workers union illegal and directed that regular services immediately be resumed. The HC also directed the state government to form a special five member committee, as suggested by the later, by Monday. The committee has to decide and submit an interim pay revision by November 15 and submit its final report by December 21 on the issue.
The HC held the the services provided by MSRTC were essential in nature.
A single judge bench of Justice Sandeep Shinde had on Wednesday suggested for setting up a separate committee over the issue and posted the hearing of a PIL against it on Friday hoping that the state's efforts for negotiation would yield positive results by then. But with the unions not backing down, the court heard the matter four times within a day giving time again for both sides — the state and the workers — to be able to resolve the issue a day before Bhaubeej, an important festival that follows Diwali.
The PIL was filed by Jayant Satam, a journalist with a Local Marathi daily, sought a declaration to call the strike illegal, to have it revoked immediately and to order the state and the corporation workers to hold talks to ensure that such strikes do not recur.
The strike has been affecting 65 lakh people who commute long distance by buses all across the state, said Jayant's advocate Pooja Thorat adding that its timing during Diwali has put many to "huge hardships".
The court heard the state lawyer Shardul Singh and Centre's lawyer Seema Chaudhary as well as G S Hegde, counsel for MSRTC, before suggesting earlier that a committee be formed at the state level to address the employee's grievances.
During the hearing, Maharashtra's lawyer Shardul Singh said that the state government, from the day when the strike was called for, "has been in active negotiations with the Maharashtra State Transport Kamgar Sanghatna and Maharashtra ST Workers Congress(INTUC), the two unions who called the strike, as well as other unions to come to a swift solution." He pointed out that the state had on October 16, issued a notification allowing all private buses, school and company buses and goods carriers to ferry people, to alleviate hardship caused to the masses. Over 4000 buses plied as a result with the help of drivers and home guards and were even accorded police protection, the Singh said.
The state said that it was willing to constitute a high powered committee of the finance secretary, the transport secretary, transport commissioner and the managing director of MSRTC on October 23 which would submit its report within two months. The MSRTC workers' unions have been demanding salaries as per the 7th pay commission.
The MSRTC provides for bus transportation within the entire State. It connects urban areas to rural too and has on offer 18,500 buses which are made available to the public for nearly 18,000 routes which include even the most remotely located tribal and rural areas.
The MSRTC has around 1,08,000 employees including drives, conductors, mechanic, clerks, housekeeping staff, watchmen, etc.
The violent demonstrations by workers had even caused "panic" among public and the state took little action against the striking workers, said the PIL.
The Supreme Court in various cases has held that Article 19(1) cannot be interpreted liberally so as to mean that people providing essential services will be allowed to go on a strike which causes inconvenience to industry or to public at large.