India: Demonstration of State Transport Workers, demanding due wages, charged with batons and teargas

-by our correspondent
Srinagar; 1 Sept, 2009

A peaceful demonstration of the striking workers of the Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC), in Srinagar, was charged with batons and teargas by the police today, leaving more than 12 badly injured and 16 arrested. Thousands of workers of the SRTC had been carrying out a peaceful protest march, accompanied by their dependant women and children, when the police resorted to violence, without any provocation.

The workers of the State Corporation had been on indefinite strike since August 26, demanding release of their salaries, due for the last four months, regularisation of the contract and ad-hoc workers, working under the Corporation, and allocation of funds to run the corporation. The workers had to resort to indefinite strike as their demands had gone unheard for long. The workers, observed the 33rd foundation day of the SRTC as a “black day” in protest against non-payment of the salaries to them.
With strike of the workers, the entire fleet of the SRTC had come to a standstill, creating havoc for the passengers, especially the tourists and pilgrims. Alongside the buses, the truck services owned by the SRTC, were also badly hit by the strike. With around 850 buses and trucks coming to a halt, both inter and intra state services continue to remain suspended all over the State.

Nisar Ahmad, a protesting employee of State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC), said, "We are demonstrating against the non-payment of wages and non-implementation of the recommendation of the 6th Pay Commission. Transport workers are facing a lot of problems. Our children have been thrown out of the schools as we don't have money to pay the school fee. We are not able to run our homes and our problems are increasing day by day."

As tourism, the main source of revenues in the State, became casualty of the workers’ agitation, the government, failing to handle the situation, decided to use the force to break the resistance of the workers.

Hundreds of employees along with their families gathered at SRTC headquarters near polo-ground here and started a protest march towards the Civil Secretariat. However, as the procession reached near women’s college M.A. Road, a heavy contingent of police baton charged them and used teargas and water cannons. Several women and children were also injured in police action.

Transport minister Kamar Ali Akhoon said the decision about the SRTC employees would be taken in a meeting with Finance minister on Wednesday. The minister, however, dropped the phone when asked about the use of force by police on the protesting employees.

The protesting employees said that they were facing starvation, as they have not been paid for the last four months. Similar marches are stated to be carried out at different places in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Before coming to power, the party of Omar Abdullah had promised the workers to meet their demands, but refused to hear their plea after it had formed the government. The earlier coalition government of PDP and Congress, led by Mehbooba Mufti, had also dealt the transport workers in the same insensitive and harsh manner.

The transport workers in the state are facing similar situations frequently, where they have to resort to protest action even to get their monthly salaries.

The state owned Transport Corporation is considered a white elephant due to its poor performance over the years, making huge losses. The workers have blamed the government for the poor state of affairs. According to the workers, the state government has not provided funds for maintenance of old vehicles since 1989. This is done to facilitate the private players and to disinvest in the social sectors.

The heavy expenditure on bureaucracy, wanton wastes and pilferage through corruption is all that is in the root of failure of public corporations. The public corporations everywhere in the country are being run by the bourgeois leaders, who fail to make their way to elected bodies and the bureaucrats, who have proven their expertise in mincing money from public institutions. This goes hand in hand with the policy of the government to destroy the public sector at any cost, through gradual disinvestment and a decisive shift to private ventures.

The policy of the Government is in line with the neo-liberal capitalist globalisation where the capitalist governments all over the world are obliged to dismantle the public sector and throw open the gates everywhere for profiteering by the national and international players. The governments, their Ministers and officials are consciously engaged in strangling the public and social sector. Working people are the worst sufferers under this new regime of neo-liberal capitalism. Where on the one hand, the Ministers, Bureaucrats, Judges, parliamentarians and legislators are getting ever new add-ons in their already hefty salaries and perks, the working people are being denied even their due wages, hardly sufficient to sustain the life.

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