Vol. XLII No. 04 January 28, 2018

Widespread Protests over Bus Fare Hike in Tamil Nadu

V B Ganesan

THE Tamil Nadu government announced a hike in bus fares across the state by 55-100 per cent on January 19. After the fare hike came into effect, bus conductors had a tough time in facing the angry people. Decrying the move, CITU state secretary A Soundararajan said that the Tamil Nadu government was hell bent to run the buses either with the savings of the transport workers or by charging the people more.

He said that while the government, in the Governor’s address, agreed to take over the debt of state electricity board TANGEDCO to the tune of Rs 22,815 crore under the UDAY scheme, it is not coming forward to share the burden of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation which is only about Rs 7,000 crore, due to workers and pensioners. Further, by infusing funds of about Rs 3,000 crore in every budget (which is just 1.5 per cent of the annual budget), the transport corporation can manage its affair more effectively.

As about two crore people in Tamil Nadu use public transport every day, this sudden hike will result in an increase in the number of private vehicles and a corresponding rise in traffic congestion and pollution.

Immediately upon the announcement, there were impromptu protests across the state and many of the protesters were lathicharged by the police. Following a call from the CITU state committee, a state-wide demonstration and protest actions were held on January 22 against this steep hike, in which wider sections of the public participated enthusiastically. Across the state, students came out vehemently opposing this hike and their struggle is spreading to other centres.

It may be recalled that following the strike of Tamil Nadu transport workers demanding the returning of workers savings usurped by the management for operational expenses, the first bench of the Madras High Court transferred the issue to a division bench to look into the demand of the workers and issue necessary orders. During arguments between the counsels of workers and the government, the government gave an undertaking that from January 1, 2018 the management of transport corporations will not use the funds deducted from the salary of the workers towards PF, insurance policies, etc. and also the government cleared terminal benefits including gratuity, PF, and even commutation benefits to the tune of Rs 750 crore across the state. Further, the Division Bench appointed a former judge, E Padmanaban, as an arbitrator to adjudicate the dispute between the government and the workers over the quantum of wage revision. On that basis, the workers withdrew the strike and resumed operations on the eve of Pongal festival.

While the government counsel were arguing in the high court about the government’s inability to settle Rs 7,000 crore usurped from the workers, on January 10, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy tabled a resolution in the Assembly to increase the salary and perks of the legislators by nearly 100 per cent. Though the DMK and Independent MLA TTV Dhinakaran opposed such a move in view of the transport workers’ strike over the revision of their wages, amid such a protest, the bill was passed and the legislators will get their salary increased from the present Rs 55,000 per month to Rs 1,05,000.

This proves that the Tamil Nadu government is hell bent on putting the burden of all its mismanagement upon the people of the state.