ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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BEST under Threat of Privatisation

The BEST bus strike in Mumbai and its underlying issues exemplify the lacunas in India’s urban public transport.

For nine days—from 8 to 17 January 2019—Mumbai’s roads were bereft of one of its historical identity markers, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) buses. These buses are the backbone of daily commute for lakhs of people, who were put through immense inconvenience and even trauma during this period. Those who live in areas that are not serviced by other modes of public and private transport were particularly affected with students even unable to travel to write their examinations. However, there are two aspects that stand out about this strike by the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport Undertaking Workers’ Union. One, even though this was the longest such agitation in recent times, public and commuter sympathy was with the workers. Despite the divisive tactics of the Shiv Sena-affiliated unions, workers remained steadfast under the leadership of the joint action committee. Along with the fairness of their demands, what drew public sympathy for the strike was the perception that they were also fighting in the general interest of public transport. Two, despite the buses being back on the roads after the Bombay High Court intervened, the general feeling is that the BEST will either be in private hands soon or it will be deliberately neglected to benefit other modes of private transport. Neither of these scenarios bode well for the future of public transport generally and for the inhabitants of Mumbai.

The BEST buses provide services in Mumbai city, its suburbs, Mira–Bhayander, Navi Mumbai and Thane. Over the past couple of decades, the undertaking has been in its death throes, signalling yet another institution falling prey to bad urban planning, privileging of private players over government services, and scant regard for the common citizen’s public needs. This is, of course, an all-India phenomenon brought on by rapid and unplanned urbanisation and bad governance. In the case of the BEST, the selling away of many of the plots of prime land on which its depots stood, cancellation of routes on grounds of non-profitability, increasing bus fares, poor mechanical maintenance, and a decreasing workforce have been matters of public knowledge.

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Updated On : 29th Jan, 2019

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