At least two Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) employees attempted to die by suicide in less than a week alleging harassment by seniors and managers at their respective depots, but their employer chose to play down the incidents.
On 27 January, BMTC driver Ranganath — attached to the Rajarajeshwari Nagar depot — consumed pesticide in front of his depot manager and other colleagues alleging harassment, including insults and public humiliation.
Ranganath was rushed to the hospital in the nick of time and his life was saved. He has been now discharged from the hospital.
Three days later, on Tuesday, 31 January, another BMTC driver cum conductor, Srinivas, attached with the Kengeri bus depot consumed poison after he wrote a detailed suicide note alleging harassment at the hands of his seniors.
He is said to be in critical condition at the ICU of the Rajarajeshwari Hospital on Mysuru Road in the city.
As police complaints have not been registered in either of the cases, the Karnataka Rajya Raste Sarige Naukarara Koota (Karnataka State Road Transport Employees Association) brought the two incidents to the notice of the BMTC’s Managing Director and the head of the Security and Vigilance department — to whom a memorandum was submitted.
“These two suicide attempts of BMTC drivers are among five victims — three of them died by suicide in the last five months,” said Chandrashekar R, state president of KSRT Employees Association.
He added: “One of the drivers, Holabasappa Chinchanakadi (48), hanged himself to a tree inside the Rajarajeshwari Nagar depot wearing his uniform on 29 August last year. The same day, the body of Rajkumar (38), a driver from the Jigani depot, was found hanging at his home.”
Chandrashekar continued: “On 10 September, the body of BMTC driver 45-year-old Eshanna was found hanging at his house in Hebbagodi. These suicides triggered protests by their colleagues (BMTC employees), and they and the families of the deceased family alleged harassment from the seniors.”
Tales of harassment
Prakash, vice-president of the KSRT Employees Union, which is affiliated with the CPIM, told South First that something similar to the 40-percent commission culture — contractors complaining that Karnataka government officials were demanding 40 percent of all the money payable to them for government works — had crept into the BMTC.
Seniors who are in charge of assigning itineraries would put drivers and conductors in a spot by assigning them unreasonable routes, he said.
In order to get reasonable routes, the drivers and conductors would have to get into some sort of an “arrangement” with the depot manager, who would expect a certain amount of commission either from their increments or their incentives.
“For example, a BMTC driver who is settled with his family in Whitefield (on the eastern periphery of Bengaluru) would be assigned a route somewhere in Kengeri (a suburb of the city in the western extremity), and the seniors expect the drivers and conductors to approach them for changing the route, for which they expect to enter into a mutual ‘arrangement’,” Prakash explained to South First.
He added: “Once the drivers and conductors are used to the ‘adjustment’, they are harassed frequently so that the depot managers earn more.”
He also alleged: “If they (drivers and conductors) do not get into the said ‘adjustment’, they are harassed. The managers use foul language in front of their colleagues and humiliate them to the extent where they get are instigated to die by suicide.”
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More details tumble out
A BMTC bus driver cum conductor who wished to remain anonymous told South First: “After our eight hours of duty, whatever we work should be considered as overtime, for which we have to be paid.”
He added: “If we do overtime for three-four hours, our seniors approve pay for only one hour of overtime. They harass us, stating that we deliberately did not finish our routes on time, thereby causing loss to the corporation. Our increments and incentives are stalled.”
The BMTC employee explained: “It is impossible and impractical to complete a particular route on time, especially with Bengaluru’s traffic. We get delayed somewhere or the other. For this, too, they flag us and cancel our increments or incentives.”
He pointed out: “When a passenger does not purchase a ticket, he or she can be penalised. What is the need to take action against the bus conductor? Yet, charge sheets are issued saying the conductor was not doing their duty properly, and there are pay cuts.”
He also said: “Another veiled threat and an occupational hazard is that if any of us protest against the management and refuse to work, we are dismissed from service.”
BMTC plays down charges
Highlighting all these occupational hazards, the KSRT Employees Association members have taken out several protests, but in vain.
BMTC Director (Security and Vigilance) Radhika G IPS told South First: “We have conducted inquiries on both the cases of attempts to suicide, and primary investigations reveal that there was no harassment from any of the seniors.”
She added: “In the first case where Ranganath from the RR Nagar depot attempted suicide, he was a chronic leave-taker and was not regular for his duties. This was the reason he had come to Depot-21 (RR Nagar) from another depot.”
She continued: “Ranganath alleged that he had issues with his duty manager, ATI (Assistant Traffic Inspector), and another staff at the depot. Upon our inquiries, prima facie we did not find any harassment from either of the three staff members.”
Radhika also said: “The duty rosters are assigned to drivers and conductors based on their seniority. The seniors get to choose the duty assignments. While most of them are picked up by seniors, the juniors are left with fewer options. Sometimes they can refuse it and opt to be a spare driver.”
One such driver was Srinivas, attached to the Kengeri depot, she said.
“Srinivas blamed a woman ATI who was allegedly harassing him. When we conducted inquiries, it was revealed that she was only doing her duty. We have counselling sessions for all employees, including drivers and conductors, and are trying to raise their morale,” Radhika explained.