TSRTC employees have to rely on money lenders to make ends meet as the deadlock with the KCR govt continues.

news Politics Friday, November 01, 2019 - 14:05

P Laxman Rao has been a Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) driver with the Huzurabad depot of Karimnagar for 31 years, but has not received his salary since September. He is one of the 48,000 TSRTC employees declared “self dismissed” by the K Chandrashekar Rao led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government in the state, for going on a strike. 

With no salary and options running out, Laxman says he and 300 other colleagues from the depot have all had to rely on informal loans to sustain their families for daily expenses. So far, four TSRTC employees have killed themselves, and several others have died due to other causes. The unions peg the death toll at 15. Laxman says it's getting difficult to make ends meet which is driving people to suicide. "We are getting by with loans, but it's difficult. That's why people are dying, what other option is left for us if the KCR government treats us like this?” he rues. Laxman and those known to him have availed loans from local money lenders for a monthly interest rate ranging from 3 to 5%.

Friday marks the 27th day of the strike. TSRTC claimed in the Telangana High Court that they would need Rs 224 crore to pay the September salaries, and that they just don't have the money for it.

No money for salaries, but enough money for sops?

In response to the High Court asking the state government to pay Rs 47 crore to keep the TSRTC services going, the state government told the court that they, too, are in financial stress and are unable to give money. The state has also told the court that due to the economic slowdown, they have reduced their budget forecast from Rs 1.82 lakh crore to Rs 1.46 lakh crore within four months of the budget session.

But, as critics point out, this has not stopped the KCR government from gifting Rs 100 crore for the development of Huzuranagar assembly constituency, which the TRS has won for the first time in the recently concluded bye-polls. This was pointed out by the Chief Justice of the Telangana High Court.

“When the state government is committed to spending Rs 100 crore for development of a city (Huzurnagar, where a bye-poll was held recently) with a population of about 10 lakh, why can’t it allocate Rs 47 crore to fulfil four minimum demands of the striking employees of the state? Is the government interested in the city or the state?” said the Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A Abhishek Reddy.

‘Money splurged on religious events’

This rebuke by the High Court has had little or no effect on the KCR government, which is set to spend crores on a 'Mahasudarshana yagam' at Yadadari temple in February next year, pointed out Lubna Sarwath, spokesperson for the Socialist Party (India). "I have written to the CJ of Telangana High Court detailing the various instances where KCR has failed in his constitutional duty and diverted public funds,” she added. 

Lubna had also petitioned the court against the spending of crores on Dawat-e-iftar and getting an expensive "chaadar" made for the Ajmer dargah. She also pointed out the gifting of two acres of Kokapet land to Sharadha Peetham — the government land with an estimated market value of Rs 30 to 40 crore that was given away for just Rs 1 per acre.

Known for his strong religious beliefs, KCR has organised many yagams during his five years as the state’s Chief Minister in his first term, despite coming under heavy criticism for using public money.

In 2015, he performed a Rs 15 crore ‘Ayutha Chandi Maha Yagnam,’ due to Telangana’s drought and scanty rainfall, even as the state was plagued by farmer suicides. In April 2016, the Chief Minister offered gold ornaments worth Rs 5 crore, from the state exchequer to Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala.

In October 2016, KCR presented a 11.7 kg gold crown that was worth over Rs 3 crore, to Goddess Bhadrakali at Warangal, on the occasion of Durga Navrat.

In February 2017, KCR offered gold ornaments worth Rs 5 crore to Lord Balaji and a nose-stud worth Rs 45,000 to Goddess Padmavati, both revered deities at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. The offering was part of KCR's personal promise to the gods for statehood during the Telangana agitation, but was paid for by the taxpayer. In December 2018, just before the Assembly polls in the state, he held two homams at his farmhouse, again paid for by the state. 

KCR continues to spend taxpayer money on gods in second term

In his second stint as CM after being re-elected in December 2018, KCR conducted a 'Maha Rudra Sahitha Sahasra Chandi Yagam’ in January this year, a five-day event at his farmhouse in Siddipet district. All these were done using taxpayer money, pointed out leaders from the Socialist Party and the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC). 

KCR now intends to hold a 'Mahasudarshana yagam' sometime in February 2019, which is expected to run into crores. The Hindu reported that the Yadadri Temple Development Authority (YTDA) officials as having submitted proposals for Rs 473 crore in August for all the works related to the project (developing the temple along the lines of Tirupati) and the ritual. 

"We have been calling for the state government to stop this kind of expenditure and today KCR is telling our TSRTC people that he doesn't have the money? Haven't we been telling him over the years to stop these kinds of wasteful expenses? Can you imagine running the house without salary for two months? What about the salary for the month that these people worked? He is not giving that also," said Lubna.

An ineffective opposition

Apart from the yearly rituals and the gifting of gold ornaments to temples run by godmen, opposition parties have accused the Chief Minister of spending a whopping Rs 500 crore for the construction of CM’s palatial house 'pragathi bhawan' on 1 lakh sq ft of land at Begumpet. The state government insists that only Rs 35 crore was spent on the project. 

The Congress, with just six legislators in an Assembly of 119, is the only semblance of an opposition party in the state. They admit that they don't have enough firepower to take on KCR and his wasteful expenses in the state Assembly. "We get drowned out," said Dr Sharavan Dosuju, spokesperson for the TPCC, "KCR is a rigid stubborn man, he has taken it personally that how can the TSRTC employees go on strike when he told them not to. That kind of stubbornness is making him not even honour the High Court."

The Congress recently lost the Huzurnagar Assembly constituency to the TRS, a seat that was long considered a party stronghold. 

The lawyers fighting the case for the TSRTC employees say though all hope is with the Telangana High Court, there’s only so much the court can do for the employees.

When asked what direction the case is going, one of the advocates stated, "It's going downhill, not as in the case itself because there is only so much that the court can do legally speaking.”

Meanwhile, the lawyers are trying to get the state government to release the September salaries of TSRTC employees, many of whom are falling into a debt trap.