Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Public transport services especially bus operations in many cities of Odisha came to a grinding halt on Wednesday with the members of Odisha Drivers’ Association launching an indefinite strike from today to press for their 10-point charter of demands.

Over five lakh drivers across the State reportedly took part in the indefinite strike to press for the fulfillment of their various demands that include social security including pension, insurance, and death benefits.

Bus services have been affected at various places in Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Balasore, Sambalpur, Bolangir and several other cities. Many buses were found to be stranded, much to the inconvenience of commuters. 

Many agitators were found staging demonstration in different parts of the State including Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. They were found sitting on the National Highway and shouting slogans regarding the fulfillment of their demands. They urged the drivers of other vehicles to extend their support to the strike.

A protesting driver, Jayanarayan Maharana said, "The government has given us nothing other than empty pronises. It has cheated us. We will continue to strike untill our demands are not met. If needed our family members too will come with us to protest."

Many private vehicle owners have also decided to remain off the road in support of the strike causing severe difficulty to the commuters and students who are appearing in the ongoing Matric examination. Traffic movement remained scant in many cities across the State.

“We had no knowledge about the strike of the drivers. We want to go to Nayagarh and we have been waiting for more than an hour to catch a bus. But, we just came to know that there will be no plying of buses today due to the strike by the drivers. It’s quite frustrating. We have no idea what to do now,” said a passenger in Bhubaneswar.

“I have come from West Bengal. I had no idea about the strike. I want to go to Nayagarh. But I am helpless now,” said another passenger.

Meanwhile, members of Odisha Drivers’ Association informed that they will continue the peaceful strike indefinitely until their demands are fulfilled.

“We are continuing the strike peacefully and requesting people to extend their support to us. We have got assurances from the government in the past regarding the fulfillment of our demands, but nothing has happened. This time we will continue the strike indefinitely until our demands are met,” said a member of the Odisha Drivers’ Association.

However, the association has decided to exclude emergency services like ambulance services and vehicles carrying essential goods from the strike. On the other hand, more than 20 associations including Private Bus Owners’ Association and State Truck Owner’s Association have announced not to include them in the strike.

Prashant Menduli, the President of Odisha Driver Mahasangh said, "We are protesting peacefully. Not a single vehicle can be spotted on the road. Every driver is supporting our cause. We have given a lot of time to the government, but not anymore."

However, the Bus Owners'Association has condemned the drivers' strike. "There are some people with vested interesrs who want to do politics in the name of Driver Sangh. They never gave us any demand letter. Even the government has also assured to consider their demands."

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Usha Padhi has urged the protesting drivers to call off their strike. Speaking to the media, Padhi said, "All their demands are being considered by the government positively. Calling on a strike when we are already ready to discuss their issues with them, does not feel right."