In his bitter confrontation with the striking employees of the state-owned transport corporation, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had the last laugh.
The High Court on Friday (November 22) dismissed a writ petition challenging the government’s decision to privatise over 5,100 bus routes in the state and gave a clean chit to the government.
With this, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government stand vindicated on the issue of privatisation of transport services.
Dismissing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), filed by vice-president of Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) Prof P L Vishweshwar Rao, the court upheld the November 2 cabinet decision to privatise nearly half of the bus routes in the state and said it cannot intervene in the government’s decision.
The state advocate general B Shivananda Prasad submitted to the court that the decision on privatisation was taken keeping in view of the commuters’ interest and to promote efficiency in transport service.
The court concurred with the government’s argument that the privatisation decision was in tune with Section 102 of the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 which gives the power to states to make any modifications in public interest.
“The court has given a verdict in favour of the government to privatise the RTC routes. I am quite disappointed. I will now approach the Supreme Court,” the petitioner said.
About 49,000 employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) have been on an indefinite strike since October 5, pressing for 26-point charter of demands that include merger of the corporation with the government and salary hike.
The government has taken a tough stand and ruled out conceding any of the demands.
Making a climb down, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the employees announced on Wednesday (November 20) that they were willing to call off the agitation if the government allowed them to return without any pre-conditions.
However, the chief minister made it clear that his government would take a decision only after the high court delivers its verdict on the issue.
Now that the court has given its nod to go ahead with partial privatisation, it remains to be seen whether the government would take back the employees.
The TSRTC has debts and dues worth ₹2,000 crore that have to be paid immediately. “Diesel dues are also to be paid. Transport Tax dues are pending for the last two years. New buses should be purchased to replace the 2,600 old buses. In total, to run the TSRTC as on date, ₹640 crore is needed per month. Who will bear this financial burden? The TSRTC has no financial strength to incur this expenditure,” the chief minister said in a statement.
He had issued an ultimatum to the striking employees to return to work by November 5, failing which they will be considered ‘self-dismissed’. The strike has crippled public transport in the state, prompting the government to hire temporary drivers to run some of the buses.
The cabinet had decided to allow private operators to run RTC buses on 5,100 routes out of the total 10,400 routes in the state. The government has, however, clarified that private operators will work under the control of the TSRTC and there would be a regulatory commission to fix fare and take care of other issues.
The decision to partially privatise the transport corporation was taken to ensure efficient public transport and provide better service to the people, the chief minister said and cited examples of Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal where certain bus routes have been privatised.
The TRS leaders contended that the privatisation decision was irrevocable as the state was empowered to do so under the recently amended Motor Vehicle Act, 2019.