Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao on Monday defended his decision to sack nearly 48,000 protesting transport employees who defied his order to return to work. He said he had not dismissed them but they had “opted for self-dismissal” by not reporting for duty before a deadline he gave, PTI reported.

Worker unions of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation had called for a strike on Saturday and Sunday with a set of 26 demands, but the government had called the strike illegal and said they would lose their jobs if they did not return to work. On Sunday, Rao said that those who had failed to come back to work before the deadline would not be taken back. The workers’ union protested on Monday against the decision.

“In the view of the Government and RTC [Road Transport Corporation], there are only 1,200 employees [left],” an official release by the chief minister’s office said. “The government has no necessity to dismiss the remaining employees. Since they have not joined their duties within the deadline, it is assumed that they opted [for] self-dismissal...they all left [jobs] by themselves.”

The statement added that the protestors did not reply to requests of the transport body’s management or the government. Those who had “opted out” of their jobs should not protest at depots and disrupt peace, the release quoted Rao as saying.

“I have ordered the DGP [director general of police] to keep special police force at the bus depots and take stern action against those who disturb peace,” Rao said. The chief minister added that in the future out of 10,400 buses with the transport body, 50% would be owned by the RTC, 30% will be under a hire model and 20% would be allotted to private entities. One of the demands of the employees is a merger of the transport body with the government so that they can avail benefits.

Residents of the state appreciated the state government’s actions against the employees, Rao claimed. He said a series of steps would be undertaken to strengthen the transport body and turning it into a profitable unit.

“It is ridiculous that these leaders are making claims on intensification of their agitation,” Rao told The Hindu. The measures were taken after careful consideration while unions indulged in “excessive behaviour” instead of helping with the recovery of the corporation, he said.

On Tuesday, the transport employees said they will challenge the government’s decision to dismiss them when they get their suspension notices. A petition filed before the Telangana High Court sought to declare the strike illegal and said citizens were facing inconvenience. More than one crore commuters use the 10,400 buses of the corporation.

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