April 11, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the demand for a merger of the MSRTC with the Maharashtra state is justified. We also look at the record sugar production in Maharashtra, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
MSRTC Protests – Workers versus Government
Economist Joseph Stiglitz once said, “Workers’ rights should be a central focus of development”. As the pandemic has ravaged the economy and various sectors, the rights of workers have again come to the forefront. It’s common to see workers, whether they’re from the private or public sector, clashing with their employers over working conditions or pay.
Maharashtra is the scene for the latest in this struggle. The central players are Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) staffers and the state government. MSRTC workers have been demanding the corporation be merged with the state government, entailing them the requisite benefits of a government employee. However, there are challenges to such a demand which don’t seem practical.
250 – that’s the number of bus depots across Maharashtra that have been shut since November. The agitation actually began in August last year when MSRTC staffers staged dharnas across bus depots over the non-payment of salaries. In late October, MSRTC workers of the Pune division went on strike, demanding a merger with the state government. They didn’t just protest at the depots, but hundreds have been protesting at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai since November 10.
As the strike went on, there was a rift between the MSRTC and many workers. The matter went to court. It asked the workers and MSRTC to find a solution. In the meantime, political leaders met with the striking workers since they began their agitation to find an amicable solution.
The MSRTC is the state-run bus service in Maharashtra. It was established by the state government per Section 3 of the RTC Act, 1950. The first bus was flagged off from Pune in 1948. The need for such an entity came about due to no regulations in the public transport sector resulting in high fares. That changed once the Motor Vehicle Act came to the fore in 1939. It mandated individual operators to form a union with defined routes.
In 1948, the Bombay State government under home minister Morarji Desai started a state transport service. It was called State Transport Bombay. In 1950, the Centre passed the Road Transport Corporation Act. It allowed states to form their own road transport corporations. Thus, the Bombay State Road Transport Corporation (BSRTC) was born. When the state was reorganised, it was renamed the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporations (MSRTC). As of March 1975, the MSRTC was India’s largest nationalised transport undertaking.
As the pandemic hit the country, lockdowns and transport restrictions were enforced. The MSRTC struggled to pay the salary of its workers. For more than 90,000 staffers, there was a three-to-four-month delay in the aftermath of the national lockdown. Over the past few years, the state government has provided financial assistance of more than ₹3,500 crores to the MSRTC to meet its expenses, including salaries.
Till 2011-12, the MSRTC was running on a profit. The following year onwards, things went downhill. In 2019-20, its losses were more than ₹5,300 crores. For 2019-20, its losses are projected to be more than ₹12,000 crores.
When it comes to the merger of state transport corporations, this isn’t the first time it’s come up. In the current scenario, the workers want the MSRTC to be merged with the state government proper. In the past, the poor financial state of the corporations themselves had been cited. In 2014, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee mulled merging some state transport corporations hoping it would reduce wasteful spending.
VIEW: Merger would increase benefits and livelihoods
The demand and reasoning are rather simple – merging the MSRTC with the state government would bring the corporation staff on par with state government employees. They would be entitled to the salaries and benefits of government employees like housing and dearness allowances and medical services. The regular salary an MSRTC staffer gets is ₹16,000 a month. It’s hardly enough to sustain a family, considering the employees aren’t well-off, to begin with.
As the MSRTC didn’t pay salaries for several months, it led to several employees allegedly committing suicide. In December, Gunaratan Sadavarte, an advocate for the workers, told the High Court that 54 employees committed suicide in the past year. Given the poor financial state of the MSRTC, a merger would help its finances. The government hasn’t fully taken responsibility for the lax functioning of the corporation and ensuring workers are paid regularly at least.
Till 1995, the MSRTC staffers were being paid on par with government employees. Since then, there’s been scant improvements or increments. Workers say this goes against a provision in the Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act, 1971. Now, their salaries are less than 50% of government employees. Some workers fear the government may decide to privatise the MSRTC, which would open a whole other can of worms for the workers.
COUNTERVIEW: Merger and strike disruptions not justifiable
When workers are on strike against the government, unions play a vital role in advocating for the employees and mediating discussions. In December, one of the MSRTCs’ unions, the Maharashtra Rajya Kanishtha Vetanshreni ST Kamgar Sanghatana, withdrew from the strike. The decision was made after its president Ajaykumar Gujar met with the NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Also, the strike’s disruptions have inconvenienced lakhs of people for whom the bus service is vital for their daily commute.
While there were rumours of the MSRTC being privatised, officials refuted these claims. Concerning the merger itself, a state-appointed panel said it wasn’t possible. Its reasoning was a lack of provisions in the Road Transport Corporation Act, 1950 about merging a state transport corporation with the government. It cited Sections 38 and 39 that outline how the state can supersede the corporation and liquidation of the corporation needing the Centre’s approval.
A merger would also affect its day-to-day business and lead to delays in decision-making. The current government has also been reluctant to merge the MSRTC with the state. Their fear is that it could set a bad precedent. If such a merger were to happen, it could lead to employees of all loss-making corporations being absorbed similarly. This would be a costly undertaking for the state’s exchequer.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The demand for a merger of the MSRTC with the state is justified.
b) The demand for a merger of the MSRTC with the state is not justified.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Refugee IDs (Mizoram) – According to a Home Department official, the state government has started giving identity cards to refugees from Myanmar. The cards are going to be valid within the state lines only and will prevent the refugees from enrolling in the state’s voter list. It will also mention that the individual is taking shelter in Mizoram on humanitarian grounds.
Why it matters: According to official data, 29,532 refugees have ended up in Mizoram from Myanmar. Since the military takeover of the country, the refugees have sought shelter in all 11 districts of Mizoram. A lot of the refugees from Myanmar’s Chin state also share certain ethnic ties with the Mizo people and consider themselves close brethren. Several refugees have poured into Manipur as well.
Golden period of tourism (Jammu & Kashmir) – According to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, around 80 lakh tourists visited Jammu & Kashmir over the last few months. This is the most tourism the region has seen in the past 20 years. On average, around 3,500 shikaras (houseboats) can be seen on the Dal Lake prompting the government to ensure quick cleaning of it on a regular basis.
Why it matters: As per LG Sinha, this is the cleanest the Dal Lake has been in 20 years. During the 2022-23 budget, the Centre even allocated ₹273 crores for the preservation of the Dal and Nigeen Lake. Around ₹136 crores of which will go towards conserving the Dal Lake. Besides being integral to tourism, the urban lake is also an important source of income for the state due to its water plant harvesting capacity and commercial fishing.
Issues with caste certificates (Odisha) – The President’s Secretariat has now directed the state government to finally issue the caste certificates of tribals from the Odisso village of the Jagatsinghpur district. After a petition was filed by Scheduled Caste leader Sankar Das, the President’s office took notice of the issue that the tribals of the village were not receiving their certificates for a year now.
Why it matters: According to the complaint, around 300 tribals from the Matya community, a sub-caste, had not received their caste certificates. Sources say that the villagers from that sub-caste from Odisso had applied for their certificates back in 1992. They had gotten their documents after verification. This time, local tehsildar Anjali Tarai said that the caste certificates have been stalled due to unclear information about the Matyas.
A whole lot of sugarcane (Maharashtra) – According to state sugar commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad, the state has recorded an all-time high in sugar production. This year, the state managed to produce 132 lakh tonnes of sugar, and that too with around 90 lakh tonnes of sugarcanes still lying uncut in fields. This has also pushed the production of ethanol to 130-140 crore litres.
Why it matters: While this is generally good from an export perspective, as the sugar produced in Maharashtra is usually saved for exports, locally, the sudden boom is hurting farmers from certain areas. Given that most of this sugarcane is treated as excess, officials have come across cases where farmers have been facing high charges for cutting and transporting the crop.
Six-hour power cuts (Andhra Pradesh) – Like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh is also facing a power crisis due to the shortage of coal in thermal power stations. In various parts of the state, the power gets cut off for 4 to 6 hours at a stretch to conserve energy. In fact, the crisis is so bad that the industries of the state were given a “power holiday” and were told to limit their workdays to 5 days of the week only.
Why it matters: This power regulation and hike in electricity charges are prompting protests from farmers and residents alike. Electricity charges have been hiked by 60% and round-the-clock industries have been asked to use 50% of their power requirement till this blows over. In October 2021, the CM even asked the Centre to supply 20 rakes of coal to prevent such a crisis but it was evidently unavoidable.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
129% – Considering the Budget session of the Parliament ended last Thursday, the Lok Sabha recorded a productivity rate of 129%. The Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, witnessed a couple of disruptions which brought its productivity down to around 99%.