City buses idle at the JTDC parking lot in Bartand, Dhanbad, on Friday. (Gautam Dey)
City bus services in Dhanbad have come to a halt since September 8 with drivers and conductors refusing to ply the buses unless their salary dues were cleared and proper facilities by way of bus stands, uniforms and ID cards were provided to them.
The drivers and conductors of 30 city buses that were in operation in the coal capital held a meeting on Friday and resolved to continue their agitation until the service provider, Rider Security Services, and Jharkhand Tourism Development Corporation (JTDC) cleared the dues — essentially salaries for the months of November 2011, and July and August 2012.
“We are not going to be fooled again and again… how will we feed our families without our salaries,” asked Gopal, a driver of a bus that runs on the Katras route.
Other drivers expressed the apprehension that amounts deducted from their monthly salaries by way of PF and ESI weren’t being deposited in the right accounts.
“We are not aware about the whereabouts of the Rs 560 deducted from our salaries in the name of provident fund and Rs 126 deducted for ESI every month,” said Suraj Singh, adding it was extremely difficult for them to continue working for Rs 126 per day.
Rider Security Services, that issued a notice to JTDC on August 7, saying it would not be able to continue as operator, admitted the drivers were getting a raw deal.
Its general manager Arun Sinha blamed the JTDC for not creating a proper environment for the service to flourish. He said the drivers needed to be given uniforms and ID cards, and bus stops needed to be earmarked.
However, Sinha also admitted the drivers could do a much better job if they wanted to.
JTDC officials, however, had another story to tell. Accounts officer in Dhanbad Tej Narayan Singh alleged the strike by drivers and conductors were illegal as they had not given prior notice.
He said the real reason for the strike lay elsewhere. JTDC, he explained, had asked the operator to ensure that each bus made at least two trips instead of the one and pay the corporation Rs 16 per km instead of Rs 11-Rs 13 as they were doing.
“Why can’t they pay at the rate of Rs 16 per km when drivers and conductors in Ranchi were paying at the rate of Rs 18 per km,” asked Singh, adding it was not viable for JTDC to run the buses at such low rates.
However, the JTDC accountant said they were ready for talks with the drivers.
Driver Suraj Singh also said that they were willing to run the buses in two shifts provided JTDC created the proper infrastructure and, of course, paid salaries on time.
“To run the buses in two shifts we will have to work for 16 hours a day. For that JTDC has to increase our salaries,” he added.