Bus conductor suicide exposes DTC staff’s travails

- January 11, 2024
| By : Muhammad Tahir |

Rahul Pawar’s death has prompted employees and their union head to come forward and speak of the atrocities faced by on-road staff especially after the introduction of electric buses

MOURNING: The family of Rahul Pawar is in grief. Pawar used to live in a joint family. He is survived by wife and a four-year-old daughter

The alleged suicide of a bus conductor last month has brought to light the stress that Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) staff have to undergo in their lives. 

Rahul Pawar, a 30-year-old conductor who was working on contractual basis, had left his home in Shiv Vihar in north-east Delhi for duty early morning on December 3 but an hour and a half later, his family got the news that he has killed himself at the bus depot. His brother found him dead, hanging by a gamchha. 

While his family alleged foul-play, saying that the duty in-charge was “pressuring him directly and indirectly for a bribe in return for ideal posting and job security”, the DTC depot manager under who he was working blamed family matters as the cause of suicide. 

“Rahul was working in the cash section. He told us the night before his death that two days ago, the in-charge said he will send him for out-duty (on the route). He asked him for a bribe if he wanted to continue,” Pawar’s brother alleged while denying media reports claiming his brother was under heavy debt.

“There was no family or other pressure on him. He was only disturbed due to his duty.”

His grief-stricken wife Priyanka, left with her four-year-old daughter, added, “He told me last night that he was being troubled by the in-charge. Rahul had paid Rs 20,000 to him last month. This time he didn’t want to pay.”

Mukesh Sharma, the Depot Manager of Nand Nagri Depot who also has the additional charge of Yamuna Vihar Depot where Pawar worked, said, “He was working in the cash section for three years. A family problem has come to light. Police investigation is on. I am not aware of any demands of bribe as of now.”

Even though Delhi Police are investigating the matter, many members from the DTC staff have come forward to speak about the difficult working conditions, especially after the introduction of electric buses, which may have led to the suicide.  

“I have been in DTC since 2019. They have transferred me to electric buses and forced me to agree to it. My duty sometimes stretches to 12 hours a day because they give us a route of two rounds, which cannot be completed within eight hours. Do chakkar marne hi marne hain ((We have to complete two rounds at all costs),” said a conductor, who has been on duty on electric buses for two months.

“It is not possible in Delhi to complete two rounds in eight hours due to heavy traffic. We don’t receive any extra payment. If we refuse, they threaten to impose a Rs 2,000 penalty or put our names in bad record. There is a lot of pressure and harassment,” he told Patriot further.  

ON CONTRACT: Rahul Pawar was a contractual employee with the Delhi Transport Corporation

The conductor added that the staff is scared of speaking out because of fear of losing their jobs. 

“I spoke up, and I received threats of losing my contract. It is not a small problem, it is serious.

The Delhi government has been steadily shifting its fleet of buses from CNG to electric. This month too, Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal flagged off 500 electric buses, taking the number of such buses in the national capital to 1,300. 

According to the Delhi transport ministry, electric buses will comprise 80% of the fleet by the end of 2025. 

While it may help in reducing pollution, it may end up inconveniencing more of the on-road staff.  

A conductor, who has been working with DTC since 2019 and was transferred to electric buses a month ago, expressed his concern.

“Till the time there were green-and-red DTC buses, there was no problem on duty. The burden increased without a corresponding increase in pay after the introduction of electric buses. Everyone is stressed. We have also met our seniors and apprised them of our problems but no one cares,” he told Patriot.

The reason, he says, is that there are no fixed duty hours unlike in CNG-run buses.  

“Earlier, we had to spend only eight hours a day on duty. But in electric buses, there is no fixed duty time. Our schedule has been badly disturbed. They said initially that our duty will last for only eight to eight-and-a-half hours a day. We have also met the minister but nothing has changed.” 

Following Pawar’s death, many employees took to social media to bring to light the exploitation at bus depots and demanded inquiry as well as compensation for the family. 

“This is not suicide but murder by Kejriwal, Modi sahab, LG, and the officers of DTC. We are surviving on a very low salary and no job guarantee with exploitation,” wrote an employee on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

Calls for suspension 

Lalit Chaudhary, President of DTC Karamchari Ekta Union, said, “We demand that officers who are involved in this suicide case should be punished. It is possible that there was high pressure on him.” 

Shedding further light on the matter, Chaudhary said that change in duty locations has given rise to demands of bribe.  

“In many depots, locations of employees changed on January 1. So, the officer who allocated duty, demanded money from the drivers, conductors for favourable posting. It depends on who gives more money. Many drivers, conductors were forcibly transferred to the fleet of electric buses.”

Chaudhary said that the employees are planning a stir and protest. 

“We are planning to campaign against it soon. We will demand that the officers also be transferred every three months just like the employees.”

Since the fleet of electric buses also includes private players, often untrained private drivers are hired leading to accidents, according to Chaudhary. 

The DTC chief general manager for Public Relations, Sanjay Saxena, said, “We will bring more electric buses in the future to prevent pollution and there is no issue with the existing jobs for drivers and conductors. They will be adjusted. There will be no favouritism in appointments and there will be job security. “

RESIDENCE: Pawar’s family lives in north-east Delhi’s Shiv Vihar

Regarding the allegation on untrained drivers, he said, “If a company is appointing their drivers, then how can we say that they are untrained? However, our plan ahead is to contract buses without drivers from private agencies and employ drivers on our own later.”

In the past few months many accident cases involving electric buses have come to light. 

“The government pays them on a per kilometre basis. So, they try to complete 150 kilometres a day. According to the Supreme Court, a bus can run 99 km in eight hours in a city like Delhi.”

Chaudhary also hit out at the DTC for openly ignoring the labour laws. 

“As per labour laws, if anyone works for even an hour extra, he should get two hours’ pay. But they don’t pay extra. Also, the government had promised to make us permanent. But the situation now is that they can fire us. We have filed a case against them in the labour court. The matter is scheduled for hearing on February 28.”