New Delhi: Hundreds of thousands of commuters were hit hard on Monday as Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) crews went on strike to protest against the killing of a driver by a biker in an incident of road rage. The AAP government threatened to take action, but the agitating staffers refused to budge.
Most of the DTC's 4,705 buses went off the roads, with hundreds of drivers and conductors massing at the 45 depots spread across the city, shouting slogans.
A small fleet of buses which plied proved inadequate for the nearly 40 lakh people who use the DTC daily to commute, forcing them to largely turn to the already-crowded Delhi Metro.
In fact, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) witnessed record ridership.
"The average ridership at 8 p.m. on Monday is 21 lakh, but today it was 22.92 lakh, an increase of 1.92 lakh," a DMRC statement said.
The strike also affected DTC operations in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Delhi's Transport Minister Gopal Rai met officials to sort out the issue arising from Sunday's incident when a biker, furious after being hit by a DTC bus, beat the driver to death.
Even as passengers watched, the biker repeatedly hit the 42-year-old driver, Ashok Kumar Singh, with his helmet and a small fire extinguisher installed in the bus. Singh bled to death while being taken to hospital.
As news of his death spread, DTC staff unions threatened a strike.
From Monday morning, drivers and conductors gathered at the depots and shouted slogans demanding strict action against the biker who has been arrested.
The worst affected were thousands of students whose schools hire DTC buses to ferry the children. With no buses, most students piled into auto-rickshaws and private vehicles to reach their schools.
By office time, hundreds of thousands of people made their way to Delhi Metro stations.
"Efforts are on to normalise the situation," a transport ministry official told IANS.
Delhi's Aam Aadmi Party government threatened action against the agitating staffers who did not return to work, but to no effect.
"The government has taken a strict view of the completely unjustified and illegal strike by DTC employees. The government will deal sternly with the strike. Employees are advised to return to work immediately, failing which they will have to face serious repercussions," it said.
However, the agitating drivers said they were "not sure" if they would return to work on Tuesday.
"The unions will discuss and take a decision soon," Tara Chand, one of the agitating drivers, told IANS.
Chand is a member of the DTC Worker Unity Centre, which according to him is one of the four workers' unions in DTC. At present, all four are on strike, he said.
The AAP government further blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party for not only politicising the issue but also for the strike.
"The compensation for the driver's family has been announced and the guilty arrested. The BJP is behind the strike," Rai told the media.
He said CCTV cameras would soon be installed in DTC buses and around 2,500 marshals deployed in the first phase.
The Delhi government also said it would bear the cost of education of the victim's daughter.
Earlier, the BJP held a candle light march from Parliament Street to Jantar Mantar demanding justice for the deceased bus driver and asked the Delhi government to increase the compensation to Rs.1 crore. Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay gave Rs.5 lakh to the driver's family.
Upadhyay also met the agitating drivers at Rohini bus depot.
"They (AAP) promised to provide safety to women in Delhi especially in DTC buses. But even bus drivers are not safe," he said.
Of the DTC's 4,705 buses, 1,275 are air-conditioned and 2,506 non air-conditioned low floor buses. The rest are older standard buses.
"We managed to put 704 buses on the roads against all odds," a DTC spokesman said.
A Delhi Metro official admitted to IANS that trains were crowded.
"Mondays are generally crowded but there is a lot of rush today because of the DTC strike," the official said.