With only 360 out of the over 48,000 striking employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) returned to work on Wednesday after the final deadline set by the Telangana government came to an end on Tuesday midnight, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao began a crucial meeting with Transport Minister P Ajay Kumar and TSRTC officials, amid indications that it may be the end of the road for the state-owned public transport entity.

Almost all employees continued the strike, which entered 33rd day on Wednesday. Earlier, terming it as an “unpardonable crime”, the Telangana government on October 6 dismissed 48,000-odd employees of Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) from service after they launched an indefinite strike demanding solution to their long-pending problems.

Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao also ruled out taking back those who did not join duties before the deadline set by the government.

The Chief Minister has rejected all the demands of the striking employees including the main demand for merger of TSRTC with the government. He also ruled out talks with them.

Terming the strike as illegal, the Telangana government had set the deadline of 6 pm on November 5 for the striking workers to return to their duties.

A state wide bandh was observed on October 19 by the striking employees of TSRTC pressing various demands, including a merger of the corporation with the Telangana government was held in October with the opposition parties actively supporting it.

KCR, as Rao is popularly known, is likely to wind up RTC and offer the employees Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) as done in some other states.

The state Cabinet had on November 2 decided to privatise 5,100 bus routes, further angering the employees, who were on strike since October 5 to press for their demands, including that of the merger of the TSRTC with the government so that they are treated at par with other state government employees.

KCR has rejected the demand for merger saying it will open floodgates of similar demands by employees of other corporations.

With the stand-off continuing and the state government refusing to pay salaries for to the striking workers in September, distress has been building up among the employees. Three employees have since committed suicide.

According to Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the employees that’s spearheading the strike, a total of 20 employees have lost their lives, mostly due to cardiac arrest.

The Telangana High Court had directed the state transport corporation and employees’ unions to hold talks and settle all disputes before October 28.

The High Court is scheduled to resume hearing on Public Interest Litigations (PILs) on October 28 when the government is expected to brief the division bench on the steps taken to resolve the issue.

Though the High Court suggested the government release Rs 47 crore to address some demands of the employees to end the strike, it did not make a commitment, citing huge accumulated losses of the TSRTC. The court found fault with the government’s stand.

On the employees’ claim that the government-owned TSRTC huge money towards reimbursement of travel concession offered to various sections of commuters, the court sought details and pulled up government officials for submitting false figures.

A crucial hearing in the case is scheduled on Thursday, when Chief Secretary SK Joshi and a few other top officials will appear before the court.

The JAC leaders argue that the state government can’t privatise the TSRTC as the entity has no statutory identity. JAC convenor Ashwathama Reddy pointed out that the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) is the legal entity as it was not bifurcated after Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

They also argue that Telangana can’t privatise or abolish the APSRTC as the Centre has 31 per cent stake in the entity. They are pinning their hopes on the Centre and the hearing in the high court.