Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on Sunday appealed to the protesting transport workers in the state to call off their strike. "A sincere effort was made to resolve problems of KSRTC staff in todayâ€™s meeting convened by Deputy Chief Minister Lakshman Savadi and Home Minister Basavaraja Bommai. Except the condition to consider KSRTC staff as Government employees, other demands such as rectifying salary differences, Rs. 30 lakh ex-gratia to the employees, who died of COVID-19, action to avoid harassment from senior officials were promised to be fulfilled,â€ť a press release by the Chief Minister's Office stated.
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi ruled out considering striking transport workers' demands to be treated as government employees, but said all other needs within financial limitations are being looked into. He said the option of deploying private bus operators was being examined to minimise the hardship faced by commuters till the issue was resolved.
"Certain things are difficult. We have to do things within our financial limitations. Already the government has been hit because of COVID-19 and there are financial constraints. We are thinking about giving them (employees) what can be given legitimately," Savadi, who is also the Transport Minister, said.
Speaking to reporters ahead of meeting workers' representatives in Bengaluru, he said some legitimate demands can be fulfilled as he expressed hope that the stalemate would be resolved and buses will start operating soon.
"Their demand of being considered as government employees is not possible as it is difficult. There are several other corporations in the state with similar demands and if we do it now, it will open a pandora's box as others are ready with a petition. Most part of the government's revenue will have to be spent on them if it happens," he added.
The employeesâ€™ major demands are that they be brought under the government's payroll, provided the same privileges/ incentives as government employees and compensation of Rs 30 lakh to those who died during COVID-19 duty. On Monday morning, as many as 69 BMTC buses were operational in Bengaluru.
Asked why the government was not imposing Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on the workers, he said they are like family and the government did not want to use such harsh measures on them now. "They are our staff, we want to convince them. ESMA is like Brahmastra, we don't want to use it immediately.. there is no question of it.. I have trust in our employees, it (strike) will end," he said.
With public transport services coming to a grinding halt across the state, lakhs of commuters, who depend on buses for their daily commute, have been hit.
Meanwhile, officials said a limited number of buses operated on Sunday in some parts of Bengaluru and various parts of the state. "I have already held discussions with the Commissioner (transport) in this regard and necessary steps will be taken," the Deputy CM added.
Savadi also indicated that the government was not ready to entertain farmers' leader Kodihalli Chandrashekhar, who has now emerged as the representative of the RTC workers. He said there may be some motive behind Chandrashekhar's involvement in the strike and the government had not invited him for any meetings.
"We have called our worker representatives as they are part of our family," Savadi said, while stating that he would reveal about the "hidden hands" behind these strikes at a later stage.