Transport Strike Part 2 in South India
After Tamil Nadu, pensioners of the Kerala transport Corporation are demanding their unpaid pensions and other dues which have been pending for months now
Muraleedharan K, a retired mechanic from the Kerala State Transport Corporation, now has faith only in Lord Muruga, a Hindu deity.
“Whenever pain worsens, I take a little Vibuthi (ash) collected from nearby Lord Muruga’s temple and apply it on my stomach. Then I feel a little relief. What else can be done if I don’t have money to buy medicines? Even daily food has become a problem now,” Muraleedharan told The Lede.
“I have undergone 12 surgeries for cancer and kidney ailments. I need around Rs 6000 per month for medicines and some Rs 1000 for my wife to buy medicines. Everything is trouble now. For the last two months, I am not taking medicines. Health issues are worsening,” Muraleedharan, who is now 68 years old, added.
For the past five months, around 40,000 pensioners of the KSRTC, including Muraleedharan, have not been receiving the pension due to them and a few from different parts of the state have put up a make-shift tent in front of the Thiruvananthapuram Secretariat demanding their dues.
Surendran S, a 68-year-old pensioner, told The Lede from the protest tent that they can’t even shout slogans loudly. “Most of us are here with our daily medicines packets. I cannot understand why the Kerala government is hard-hearted. We are not asking for any increase. We are just asking for our unpaid pension, a genuine right,” Surendran added.
The pensioners at the protest claimed that around six pensioners have committed suicide during the last five months due to financial constraints led by the non-availability of the pensions – this could not be verified independently.
However, a banner with a picture of one Thankamma, who reportedly committed suicide due to financial constraints thanks to non-availability of pension, has been put up in the make-shift tent. Protesting pensioners claimed that Thankamma, a widow of their colleague in Koothattukulam, committed suicide as she did not have money to treat her mentally-challenged son.
But while talking to The Lede, a senior official from Koothattukulam Police Station said that these allegations are unconfirmed. “We have registered a case for unnatural death and are probing all angles,” the official added.
An Ailing Corporation
The KSRTC was set up in 1965 and barring the first year of its operation, has not made profits. Since it is classified as a public utility, the state government, time and again, infuses funds for its smooth functioning.
The KSRTC today has around 44,000 employees and around 40,000 pensioners on its rolls. The bane of the Corporation, which has close to 5900 buses, is that it has one of the highest bus-staff ratio.
47% of the total cost of the organisation goes into meeting staff expenses. Dr D Dhanuraj, Chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) toldThe Lede that without restructuring the KSRTC’s operations and bringing in experts on top of the management who can understand the issues and resolve it, the struggle will continue and worsen in the coming days.
“Pension cannot be given because funds are diverted and mismanaged. KSRTC should adopt new mechanisms, make the public aware of its benefits and moreover, change the perception in the mind of people and politicians on what a public transport should be and how it should be run profitably,” Dhanuraj added.
According to Dhanuraj, in many other states, public-private partnership models are adopted in the public transport system and they are running profitably. He added that due to huge recruitment and other issues, expenditures are going up. But the revenue is dipping.
“And now, when there is no ceiling or control put in the recruitment process, the number of recruitment will go up too, which will add to the woes of the government and corporation,” Dhanuraj added.
According to a senior official from the KSRTC, who requested anonymity, the loss every month is around Rs 175 crore and from a total liability of the KSRTC during the UDF government’s tenure was Rs 1400 crore, it has now shot up to Rs 3400 crore.
Thampanoor Ravi, state president of the Transport Democratic Federation (TDF) and KPCC general secretary, said the current Left government rode to power after promising the KSRTC employees that the pension liability will be taken over and monthly pension disbursed without break.
“The Chief Minister, who had given an undertaking that the KSRTC pensioners will not be struggling for pension under the Left government rule, has made a volte-face now. However, there is not even a minister for transport department after the resignation of Thomas Chandy, which has made matters worse in the KSRTC,’’ Ravi said.
He urged Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to show the guts to implement the bailout package mooted by his predecessor Oommen Chandy for the KSRTC.
“The Chandy government had shown the courage to take over 50% of the pension liability of the KSRTC,” Ravi added.
Meanwhile, Dr Thomas Issac, state Finance Minister, posted on his official Facebook page that the Left government has not let down the KSRTC and its employees.
“We have been able to run several public sector units profitably which were running at loss. We will rescue the KSRTC too. We are supposed to give only Rs 360 crore according to the 50% cost sharing accord, clinched during the previous Chandy government. But during the last 10 months, we have given Rs 630 crore. So, it is clear that government is not at fault in pension issue,” the post read.
“Additionally, we have taken a loan of Rs 505 core on government guarantee. With other help and all, we have given the KSRTC around Rs 1507 crore in the current financial year. And, we are ready to provide Rs 1000 crore for the two consecutive years to support KSRTC. This is to fill the loss gap. If KSRTC is not going to come out from loss with our support, then it will fall. We cannot take the responsibility of pension. We can’t do that. That’s why we are supporting through such packages,” the post adds.
According to government officials, the transport corporation needs an amount of Rs 224 crore to clear its entire pension dues.
Meanwhile, A Hemachandran, KSRTC Managing Director, said that government had sanctioned Rs 60 crore for pensioners. But pensioners claim that the amount would come to only one month’s pension.
“The pension comes to bank accounts. We already have loans there. Whatever money comes to the bank, they will withdraw it entirely as we have been not able to pay the monthly instalments. So, eventually, we don’t get anything in hand for meet our daily needs,” PA Mohammed Ashraf, general secretary of pensioners’ organisation, told The Lede.
According to Ashraf, from 1984 KSRTC pension was given by the government. “However, in 1991, when Balakrishna Pillai took charge as state transport minister, he claimed that KSRTC is self-sufficient to provide pension and by doing so it can lessen the burden on the government,” Ashraf said adding that since then pensions got delayed and pension fund got diverted..
The pensioners said that they will begin a hunger strike from the last week of January. Meanwhile, Kallada Kunjumon, Indian Trade Union Confederation (INTUC) state vice president, said that the current Left government is betraying pensioners. “It is surprising to learn that such a kind of denial is happening from the so-called workers’ representative government. The KSRTC employees are recruited by the state Public Service Commission. So, it is the responsibility of the state government to take care of KSRTC workers’ welfare,” Kunjumon said, adding that they support the pensioners’ strike.