Mumbai paralysed as motormen boycott trains


Mumbai : Millions of commuters here were hit hard Tuesday as drivers of suburban trains, the city’s lifeline, struck work demanding better working conditions, crippling Mumbai and creating chaos in the national parliament.

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With just a few trains running and thousands of commuters crammed into the coaches like sardines, life was thrown out of gear in Mumbai where trains carry nearly seven million passengers a day.

The protests by more than 600 motormen, as the drivers are known, compelled the railways to issue a rare advisory Tuesday asking people not to commute unless it was a must.

Officials said train services had been hit hard on both Western Railway and Central Railway.

“People may undertake (train) journey only if it’s very important,” said a bulk SMS sent out by the railway authorities. Stranded passengers were asked to contact helpline 10721 for assistance.

The motormen have been on hunger strike since 6 a.m. Monday demanding a pay hike among other things. Their strike led to chaos in the city during the evening peak hour traffic Monday.

Sensing the critical situation, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan indicated he would take up the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But as protests by the motormen found an echo in the Lok Sabha, with MPs from Mumbai and Maharashtra creating a din, the state government announced it was invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to force the drivers to return to work.

There was no immediate response from the protesting staff.

The situation sparked off by the work stoppage worsened Tuesday, with the cancellation of nearly 80 percent of the total 2,000 daily services.

The railways resorted to desperate – but insufficient – measures like permitting people to travel on long-distance trains on the same routes and making them halt at all suburban stations.

The railways are also making alternative arrangements to grapple with the protest, considered the worst in Mumbai since 1974.

The BEST and MSRTC chipped in to help the stranded commuters by deploying additional services in the city and elsewhere.

Taxis and autorickshaws were in heavy demand. Many people were seen hanging on to the doors or perched on the roofs of the trains still plying on the system.

Mumbai University said any student delayed for the 40-odd final examinations need not panic. They would be permitted extra time to write their papers.

The motormen’s agitation has had a cascading effect on Mumbai roads and highways which have been plagued by ugly traffic snarls since Monday night. Similar scenes were seen Tuesday morning.

So bad is the situation that the railway stir overshadowed the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case in which Pakistani national Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab was held guilty Monday.