Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao has always taken pride in having led the agitation for a separate Telangana in a peaceful and non-violent way, saying he was inspired to do so by the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary we observed just two weeks ago.
Three days later, the 51,000-plus staff of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) launched a total strike, bringing massive disruption to the state before Dasara. It crippled transport, wrecking people’s travel plans. Taking a strong line, Mr Rao’s government decided to sack over 48,000 TSRTC employees, calling the strike unethical and illegal, and its timing intended to armtwist and blackmail the government.
We supported the government’s decisions, including the seemingly heartless move to sack employees en masse. We were convinced trade unions should not resort to strike over employee benefit issues at a time when the economy is slowing down, and jobs hard to find. We supported the government as we were convinced it was motivated with a desire to reduce the government’s role in the economy, to streamline the corporation’s effectiveness and market sustainability, and to improve the quality of services.
However, after the scandalous exposure exclusively by this newspaper that the TRS government had done so with an agenda to benefit a personal businessman friend, Megha Krishna Reddy, whose electric bus company would get a large chunk of the RTC. Olectra Greentech has already supplied 40 buses, and pocketed a Central government subsidy of `40 crore, and will get another `40 crore-odd from the state government, implying that the move wasn’t done with the greater common good in mind. Governments must privatise all state assets, especially those it’s not capable of running. If done fairly, transparently in an open auction, this would fetch the state and people the highest sums in return from private entities for their sale. But when the move is to hand over strategic assets, and a disguised monopoly, to a corporate cohort, it is sheer cronyism. At best, it’s a dubious deal, and must be stopped.
The only justification for sacking over 48,000 RTC employees would be if it was done for the larger good of Telangana’s citizens, not to create personal windfall profits for Megha Krishna Reddy, or anyone else, for no reason other than a close relationship with the powers that be.
The Centre must study the entire deal and have it probed by an independent agency, perhaps the CBI. Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan must look into the matter and advise the state government to retract. The spurt of suicides by employees who lost their jobs, depriving their families of support, is too tragic for any government to hold on to a high horse. The chief minister needs to retract with humility, talk to the employees and offer an amnesty to all employees to join back, ending the strike. Of anything else, Gandhiji would surely not approve....