Worker unions of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation called for a huge protest at Indira Park in Hyderabad on Monday after Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao decided to dismiss nearly 50,000 employees for participating in a two-day strike, Hindustan Times reported.

The transport body had called for a strike on Saturday and Sunday with a set of 26 demands, including a merger of the transport body with the government so that they can avail benefits. Several government buses did not run since Friday night, adversely affecting public movement during the festival season.

The state government, which called the strike illegal, had asked the employees to get back to work by 6 pm on Saturday or they would lose their jobs. On Sunday night, Rao said those who had failed to resume working would not be taken back. The chief minister later declared that only 1,200 employees were now with the transport body as the rest took part in the strikes on the second day, according to The News Minute.

“It is an unpardonable crime that they went on a strike during the festive season and at a time when the TSRTC was incurring a huge loss of Rs 1,200 crore and its debt burden had gone up to Rs 5,000 crore,” Rao said, according to NDTV. The chief minister’s announcement led to escalation of protests as nearly 50,000 protestors purportedly lost their jobs.

The transport body’s Joint Action Committee, which called Monday’s protests, said that the transport body was not the chief minister’s private property. “The chief minister is planning to privatise the RTC showing our strike as an excuse,” the committee’s chairman E Ashwathama Reddy told Hindustan Times. “He is making baseless allegations against the striking employees and resorting to intimidating tactics. We are not going to succumb to any pressures.”

The transport employees will also challenge the government’s decision to dismiss them when they get their suspension notices, News18 reported. A petition filed before the Telangana High Court sought to declare the strike illegal and said citizens were facing inconvenience, PTI reported.

The court directed the state government to file a report on October 10 about the arrangements made, and ordered to serve notices to two RTC unions.

The Hyderabad Police said no permission had been given for Monday’s protest. “We have specific information that the JAC [Joint Action Committee of the transport body] leaders are planning to mobilise thousands of people,” Joint Commissioner of Police P Vishwa Prasad said. “It might lead to disturbance to peace and create law and order breakdown. So, we won’t allow any meeting at Indira Park.”

The Telangana government has hired 2,500 buses to tackle the rush during the season. About 4,114 buses will be included under the transport body and will get state carriage permission. More than one crore commuters use the 10,400 buses of the corporation.

Rao has rejected the demand for a merger, saying that the government “will not succumb to any indiscipline and blackmailing tactics of the employees’ unions”. He also said that the government would begin recruitment to replace those dismissed, adding that new employees would have to give an undertaking they would not join unions.

Meanwhile, the Opposition has also attacked the state government. Congress’ leader in the Assembly Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka said the decision to dismiss the employees showed the chief minister’s arrogance. He said workers had every right to protest for their rights and the government is expected to negotiate with them.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s state chief K Laxman described Rao’s actions as “thoughtless and provocative”.

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