Not only do they face poor working conditions, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation’s bus conductors say that they are also compelled to meet daily targets amidst a pandemic.

A woman conductor dressed in a saree walking inside a TSRTC depot along with male conductorsImage for representation only
news Human Interest Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - 16:37

Suguna* comes into the Cantonment Bus Depot in Hyderabad at around 3.30 pm after finishing her duty for the day as a conductor. It has been a long day that started at 5.30 in the morning and she looks tired and tense. Suguna holds a ticket machine in one hand as she takes cash out of her bag, which she has to deposit at the cash collecting counter of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC). After that she rushes to the ladies restroom in the depot, to use the toilet facilities for the first time that day and then comes outside and drinks water.

Every day, Suguna wakes up at 3.30 am, finishes her household chores, gets ready and leaves for the Cantonment Bus Depot where she has to start duty at 5.30 am. She works as a conductor on the bus that goes from Secunderabad to Mehadipatnam and does multiple trips each day until her duty time ends.

Following a TSRTC strike in 2020, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said that women employees should not be given night duties and should be sent home early. Because of this, the women conductors get placed on the first service of the day, which starts very early in the morning. This has also caused trouble for many of them as they have to get up even earlier to cook and care for their families before making their way to the bus depot to begin their workday. 

“I left home early in the morning, but since then I haven’t had any water to drink because of lack of proper toilet facilities. This is the same case every day. Though there is one toilet facility at the Gurudwara, a stop near Secunderabad, we cannot leave the bus while the passengers are boarding. They might leave the bus if they don’t see me and I will miss out on collection,” says Suguna.

She adds that in case of emergencies, she uses a Sulabh toilet complex at Mehdipatnam bus stop, “a dirty one, which charges Rs 5 even for the TSRTC employees,” she says.

“Everybody says we should drink more water for our health, but how can we do that in such a scenario? This is leading to a lot of health problems,” Suguna complains.

This is the situation for thousands of TSRTC conductors, out of which nearly 2500 are women. There are times where the conductors are put on double duty, which ends after nearly 13 hours. During these times, many of the conductors completely avoid drinking water so that they won’t have to use the toilet, while some make do by sipping a little bit of water throughout the day.

Ladies restroom in a TSRTC depot

Mobile bio-toilets

There are toilets available for the women conductors only in the depots and not at the bus stops, so they don’t have any access to facilities en route. But towards the end of  2019, TSRTC had introduced 15 mobile bio-toilets, which were converted from old buses and placed at changeover points across Hyderabad. However, the female employees say that these mobile toilets are nowhere to be seen now. 

Meanwhile, a source from the TSRTC said that mobile toilets were removed from some of the changeover points as they were not in use, as not many buses were running that route in a day. But the rest are still in place.

City Executive Director, Venkateshwarlu of TSRTC told The News Minute that, “As far as we are concerned, these mobile bio-toilets are in use at the changeover points. But since you have brought this to our notice, we will look into it and direct the officials to take necessary action in this regard.”

He further added that in case a mobile toilet is not provided or accessible, the employees are asked to take it to the notice of the concerned depot manager so that action can be taken.

Menstrual leave

The situation becomes even worse when the women are on their period, say many of the bus conductors. Trilochana, another conductor, who was on double duty from Mehdipatnam to Moinabad route says, “Anyway there are no toilet facilities. But for a long time, we have also been asking for a certain amount of menstrual leave days per year, but that has not been granted to date. Not every woman will have easy periods, they need rest during the time and it needs to be considered on humanitarian grounds.”

Falling short on daily collection

Another issue the employees say they face is the pressure to meet target collection, despite being in the midst of a pandemic. The target amount each bus conductor needs to bring in varies from depot to depot. For example, if there are a lot of educational institutions on a particular route, the buses plying there usually bring in more collections, so the target there will be higher than for other routes. 

During the 54-day strike last year, the TSRTC employees had 26 demands including job security for all the employees and recruiting more staff. Following this, incentives based on target collections were removed, however, targets concerning the number of kilometres a bus must run in a day and fee collection remained.

In case the conductors fail to bring in this set amount, they have to go through counselling, a one-on-one meeting with a higher official, where they are advised and motivated on how to improve collection. But many of the conductors say it is nothing but listening to the ‘tantrums of the higher officials’.

A conductor going towards the deposit counter

Trilochana says that the stress the conductors face when the collection is low is high. “They even compare us with other conductors and other depots and try to instigate fights and jealousy among us. In case we fail to meet targets, they ask us to go for counselling. These counselling sessions are long, sometimes making us late for duty, and they consider that day as absent or leave. Most of our leaves are going off like this,” she says.

Suguna, from the Cantonment Bus Depot, uses a mic to get the passengers on board, making announcements about the routes and requesting people to board the bus. Despite all her efforts during the day, she laments after depositing the cash, “Today as well I haven't met the target in collection, how can we force people to travel in our bus while there is a pandemic?” She collected Rs 4,300 when her target was Rs 5,000 and is worried about the consequences.

(*names changed)

Read: Hyderabad engineer who ran Thop TV arrested for pirating OTT content

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.