Mumbai, May 4: Monday was a nightmare for thousands of Mumbaikars returning home from work, with striking motormen refusing to drive local trains. And Tuesday has been tough too already with only 15 percent trains running.
But as the motormen took their strike into its second day, demanding better pay and facilities, the government has refused to blink first. It has taken a tough stance, dismissing 20 motormen - 10 each from the central and western railways - early on Tuesday morning as a warning to the rest and now imposing the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) after a go-ahead from the Centre. ESMA allows the government to arrest those who don’t report to work.
Already, the police have detained 86 motormen for creating an obstruction in the work of Government services and more are being rounded up.
Additional buses are being run and the government has requested commuters to plan travel only if necessary and to travel in long-distance trains. But that has created new problems, with the western and eastern express highways now jammed with commuters opting for road transport to reach their destination.
The regional labour officer will hold a meeting at 11 am on Tuesday with both Railway authorities and the representatives of motormen to try and break the deadlock. The motormen are already engaged in talks with the management over their demands and the Railways has pointed out that it is illegal under the Labour Act to strike work while conciliatory talks are underway.
The government has also deployed Mumbai Police and State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) forces at all local stations to quell trouble.
The local train network is the city’s lifeline and any disruption causes large-scale chaos.
On Monday evening, Mumbai’s stations were filled with weary commuters looking for a way to get home.
The motormen initially went on a hunger strike on Monday saying they would drive trains on an empty stomach, but by evening many refused to drive and both the central and western railways ended up cancelling trains. Angry commuters surrounded the station master’s cabin at Mumbai’s Churchgate station after the western railway line shut down.
The government advised offices to relieve staff early and provided more bus services. As rail traffic spilled on to the roads and traffic jams grew, the authorities even asked private vehicle owners to help reach people home.